Friday, 7 February 2014

Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: 

Matthew McConaughey deserves to win an Oscar.

I mean how crazy is that? Matthew McConaughey, star of such trite drivel as Fool's Gold, Failure to Launch and Sahara, deserves to win an Oscar. It's true though. Turns out dude can actually act.

To be fair, there have been hints at this in the past (Dazed and Confused, The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud) but nothing to demonstrate the fact so clearly as Mr M's powerhouse performance in Dallas Buyers Club. 

Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof, an electrician and rodeo rider with some serious issues with alcohol, drugs and casual sex, in 1980s Texas. Ron is a typical macho cowboy with a southern drawl, a ridiculous mustache and some pretty unpleasant views about gay people who finds out he has HIV and is give 30 days to live. After finding out that the drugs he believes will save him are unavailable in the US, he heads to Mexico where he learns about alternative - and ultimately less dangerous - treatment and begins smuggling them back over the border. With the help of transsexual fellow AIDS patient Rayon (Jared Leto), Ron starts a buyer's club where people pay a monthly subscription to get (technically free) access to Ron and Rayon's supply of drugs. In the process, he tackles the US government, the drug companies and his own prejudices and becomes an underground hero. 

A story with such a huge element of character metamorphosis and redemption as this film has requires a very intelligent and nuanced performance to avoid becoming twee and McConaughey delivers big style. His physical transformation for the role has got a lot of attention - and it is incredible - but it's actually the least interesting aspect of his performance. Everything he does with Ron is done expertly. The scene where, after hours of studying in the library, he finally realises how he's caught Aids and accepts that he has it is particularly raw and heartbreaking. The development of his relationship with Leto's Rayon is also incredibly touching, from initial revulsion to eventual love of a sort. 

Jared Leto is excellent too. It would be easy to allow a character like Rayon to descend into a predictable stereotype but Leto deftly avoids this. Watching his health slowly decline is achingly sad and his final scenes are an incredibly hard watch. In support, Jennifer Garner as the doctor/friend to both characters is also very good and uses the relatively small amount of screen time she has to full effect.

There are some minor niggles - some of the symbolism is laid on with a shovel (the opening scene with the bareback rodeo riding/unprotected sex juxtaposition is as subtle as a brick to the face) and in a movie all about Aids it seems weird that there's not a single mention or sighting of a condom, or indeed any notion of safe sex for people with HIV - but overall this film is genuinely fantastic.  

Highly, highly recommended. 

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