2013 / Best Actor / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor

Film #499: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

During the first decade of the 21st century Matthew McConaughey was seen as a little bit of a joke due to his presence in a number of sub-par romantic comedies. However, in the 2010s something magical happened and the actor started appearing in a string of critically-acclaimed movies. The actor’s return to form, dubbed by some as the McConaissance, and featured appearances in film such as Mud and Killer Joe. McConaughey finally won his Oscar at the 2014 ceremony after losing 47 pounds to play rodeo cowboy and AIDs victim Rod Woodruf in Dallas Buyers Club.

The film concentrates on the true story of Woodruf, who was given 30 days to live after contracting HIV but ends up using his own survival instincts to stay alive for seven years. Despite catching the disease after sleeping with a woman, the redneck community that Ron has grown up in dismiss him for being a homosexual. Ron’s attitude to gay people is equally backward and it’s only after contracting the disease that he starts to change his mind about them. Part of the film is devoted to Ron’s attempts at self-medicating and illegally purchasing the so-called wonder drug AZT to stay alive for longer. It’s only when he collapses in Mexico that he learns the true side effects of AZT and meets a doctor who describes different medication for him to take. Ron’s attitude about differing cultures continue when he meets the transgendered Rayon and eventually goes into business with her to sell non-FDA approved drugs to AIDs victims. Ron and Rayon set up the titular club in which they charge a monthly membership in return for the supply of drugs that they wouldn’t get at a hospital. Although Dallas Buyers Club is a film about accepting those who are different to you the film never lapses into that much sentimentality. The only real emotional moment that occurs in the film is Rayon’s death scene and Ron’s later reaction when he learns of his friend’s demise. The courtroom scenes, which feature Ron’s further clashes with the FDA, are similarly brief but nonetheless really made me sympathise with his character a lot more. By the end of Dallas Buyers Club I’d really emotionally connected with the story and especially Ron’s battle with the authorities.

Dallas Buyers Club’s best attribute is probably its two central performances which were both rewarded with Oscars. Matthew McConaughey is absolutely fantastic as the hard-drinking, womanising Ron who later learns plenty of life lessons when he’s at death door. McConaughey portrays Ron as a cocky character whose literal fight with AIDs resulting in his creation of the club. Interestingly, only a few years before, McConaughey was seen as nothing more than a romantic comedy lead and most had written him off as a serious actor. However, his performance in Dallas Buyers Club was the latest in the actor’s career rebirth and demonstrated how effective his swaggering persona could be. Although Ron’s attitude changes, McConaughey never loses sight of Woodruf’s character and he remains a stubborn cowboy till his very last days. McConaughey also shared brilliant chemistry with Jared Leto who was utterly convincing as transgendered Rayon. Although I wasn’t as crazy about his performance as some other people were I felt he gave a tender portrayal of a man who had rejected his family in order to be who he truly wanted to be.
Despite Leto and McConaughey being well-utilised, I felt Jennifer Garner was under used as one of Ron’s Doctors Eve Saks. Eve is the one member of the medical profession who believes that Ron is doing well and later almost begins a romance with him. It appears to me as if the writers weren’t quite sure what to do with Eve and therefore he became an imbalanced character. In addition to the magnificent performances, the film’s use of sound was tremendous as a loud speaker sound played every time Ron was about to pass out. Jean-Marc Vallée made sure his film was well-paced and this was aided by some excellent cinematography and editing. Ultimately Dallas Buyers Club was a film that dealt with terminal illness but didn’t wallow in sentiment and I found that to be rather refreshing. I also developed an emotional connection with the characters and by the end of the film I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a little tear in my eye.


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