Friday, 17 January 2014

Dallas Buyers Club Review

Matthew McConaughey, in case you hadn't noticed, is on the biggest roll of his career. He has risen from the pits of endless bland rom-coms to become a real leading man constantly showing off his very real skill in front of the camera. Dallas Buyers Club is likely to be the pinnacle of his career unless he continues to choose his roles very wisely and keep chasing awards worthy films in future. Shedding so much weight that he is half the man he once was, McConaughey's face and body is a haunting sight in Dallas Buyers Club, a sight befitting the true story of AIDS victim Ron Woodroof.

Woodroof contracts HIV in the mid-80s, is swiftly given 30 days to live by the doctors who tell him to get his affairs in order and then goes on to become a supplier of medicine to other victims of AIDS. The fact he is a hard drinking, rodeo loving hick who hates 'faggots' and loves nothing more than hanging out with prostitutes and snorting cocaine means he is in for a seriously Oscar baiting arc as he is forced to deal with more and more homosexuals who come to him for help and medicines that have not been approved in America by the FDA. He meets transexual Rayon (Jared Leto) who helps him approach his new customers and his business of importing the unapproved and potentially dangerous meds into the country booms. The FDA and doctors want him shut down but Woodroof is determined to survive and to keep others like him alive by supplying the medicine by not selling it, but offering membership to what becomes the Dallas Buyers Club.

Ron Woodroof is a bit of a bastard. He is selfish, greedy, racist and homophobic. How true to life this representation is of the man is is debatable but in the movie Matthew McConaughey and the scriptwriters do not hold back from showing Woodroof's nastier side. It is only after he contracts AIDS, loses his redneck bigot friends and meets the tragic Rayon that another side predictably emerges. However Woodroof's arc is not sugar coated. He doesn't transform over night and the film takes plenty of pleasure in drawing comedy from the odd couple relationship of Ron and Rayon.

It is here where the Dallas Buyers Club flies. Rayon is instantly loveable with a career best performance from Jared Leto. He is barely recognisable, all skin and bones and beautifully made up as the tragic transexual. Whether covering Ron's walls with pictures of made up men or teasing the miserable Ron, he is a caring and beguiling figure. Leto is completely convincing as the man who should have been born a woman; as comfortable and stunning in his women's clothes as he is uncomfortable dressed as a man. It is a shame the character of Rayon gets less screen time than the less likeable and arguably less interesting Ron.

On the other hand, Matthew McConaughey desrves all the awards he will get (Golden Globes, Critics Choice) as his Ron has the biggest arc and emotional range. Scenes of the rough and ready redneck breaking down alone in a car or sticking up for his new friend in a supermarket will likey leave audiences in tears and McConaughey is barely off screen throughout. It is as much of a transformative turn as Leto's and the pair both give incredibly committed central performances that carry the film, making it completely credible. Jennifer Garner gets in on a bit of the action as a doctor trying to treat AIDS patients and Steve Zahn registers as a decent cop but neither get a chance to step out of the shadow of McConaughey and Leto's towering performances.

What is less committed and brave than these performances is the films' handling of homosexuality and the instrumental role many homosexuals had in starting up similar buyers clubs. Dallas Buyers Club is far more comfortable in wallowing in Ron's homophobia (and exploiting its comedic potential) than it is in really exploring homosexuality. Leto's relationship with another AIDS sufferer is incredibly chaste and the only hint of homosexuality in the film is a dance in a gay club. The film sidelines its gay characters, neglecting to tell the full story in favour if its focus on the straight man. It's a real shame as the recent documentary How to Survive a Plague covered the FDA and the government's dangerous neglect of finding solutions to the AIDS epidemic in far more detail and put homosexuals at the forefront of the fight back.

Nevertheless, Dallas Buyers Club is a very effective emotional story. See it for two staggering transformations and a touching true tale that desrves to be told. While Woodroof is the flawed star of the film, Leto's equally damaged Rayon threatens to steal it away from him. It may not tell the full story, choosing to focus on one frequently unpleasant man instead of many other heroes in the fight against AIDS, but Dallas Buyers Club avoids cliche to become powerful, credible and profoundly affecting. Join the club.


Stick around! Please enjoy some more reviews from I Love That Film:

12 Years A Slave

American Hustle

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

All is Lost

The Railway Man

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Captain Phillips

Saving Mr. Banks

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