Film Review: Dallas Buyers Club

The naked bongo playing loon otherwise known as Matthew McConaughey is going through something of a McConaisance at the moment with critical hit following critical hit.

It’s quite the turnaround really when you consider that he was more or less lost in the movie making wilderness for nearly a decade.  The wilderness years lasted from about 2001 until 2009 by my reckoning, seeing McConaughey feature in a series of “I’ve just been sick in my mouth”, lazily written rom-coms by numbers, aimed at hormonally impaired women (ie The Wedding Planner, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) or cheap Indiana Jones knock-offs (ie Sahara, Fools Gold).  But then came The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud and Magic Mike – and his stock began to rise.  And now, hot on the heels of his scene stealing turn in The Wolf of Wall Street comes McConaughey’s best performance to date as a size zero, rodeo loving, homophobic, drug pushing anti-hero riddled with AIDS.

Based on a true story, Dallas Buyers Club tells the tale of Ron Woodruff, a wirey hick whose life is rocked to the core on discovering that he has contracted HIV due to love for bare back riding (I’m not talking rodeo here) and potentially only has weeks to live.  This all took place in 1985 when HIV amongst the heterosexual community was nothing but a vicious rumour whispered in dark corners of seedy bars.  On finding his access to potentially effective medical treatment stunted via official routes, Ron takes the unofficial road and uses all of his cunning and guile to get his hands on unapproved medicines to prolong his life.  A chance encounter with a transgender named Rayon (Jared Leto) then sets Ron off on an unlikely journey and partnership which leads to Ron and a Rayon smuggling and selling drugs and keeping the Dallas gay community alive in the process.

It’s all a very interesting tale, but although I enjoyed watching it at the time, I don’t think it’s one that will stay with the viewers for too long. I think Dallas Buyers Club (very much like its Academy Award Best Film Nominee buddy American Hustle) is a film that will be remembered for its pulsating performances rather than anything else. Jared Leto is pretty decent as the ultra effeminate Rayon, but this film belongs to McConaughey and his bushy moustache. He’s definitely deserving of his Best Actor Oscar nomination, and you know what?  I think he’ll win it!  A big part of me would love DiCaprio to win it (largely because I loved The Wolf of Wall Street and also because I think it’s a travesty that he hasn’t won one already), but my head says its McConaughey’s.

McConaughey as Ron Woodruff is so far outside of his comfort zone that the zone is but a dot in the distance, whereas Leo could have played Jordan Belfort (The Wolf) in his sleep.  I did wonder whether I was being swayed by McConaughey’s dedication to his art in creating his gaunt and emaciated physique in this movie (he apparently lost 3.5 stone).  He really did look severely ill!  Very much like a man with full blown AIDS (which was handy).  But you know what?  As impressive as his dedication is, if he had played the part as a fat, chubby bastard, he may have looked a little out of place, but he still would have been a deserved favourite to win the Oscar. He’s always been a talented and charismatic actor.  Thankfully now, his film choices seem to be matching his talent.

The Final Verdict

The Best Thing About Dallas Buyers Club…

Matthew McConaughey. Just keep him away from scripts involving the likes of Kate Hudson, Jennifer Lopez and Katherine Heigel from now on!

The Worst Thing About Dallas Buyers Club…

She was by no means terrible, but Jennifer Garner as a sympathetic doctor looked a little light weight in comparison to Leto and McConaughey.

You’ll like this if you liked…

Philadelphia, The Lincoln Lawyer and maybe Awakenings.

Overall

A very good film, but a level below 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street and Gravity.  Like American Hustle this film will be remembered more for its performances than anything else and in particular for the arrival of Matthew McConaughey as a major Hollywood heavyweight.  3.9 out of 5.

Words: Gareth Hutchins