Director: Jean-Marc Vallée; Writers: Craig Borten, Malisa Wallack; Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hate, Steve Sahn: Running time: 117 minutes; Certification: 15
It’s fair to say Matthew McConaughey is no longer in a career resurgence. He’s been great for a while now, consistently churning out impressive performances in impressive films, and it’s not far-fetched to say he’s probably one of the best actors currently working. Garnering plenty of awards attention, including Best Actor and Picture nods at the Oscars, Dallas Buyers Club is perhaps the icing on his proverbial cake, the film that once and for all proves just how far he’s come from leaning nonchalantly against pretty women. Though the true testament to how good he’s been of late is that he probably deserved the recognition even more for the magnificent Mud.
The film divides its narrative into two parts. On one side it’s a striking true story of bull rider/electrician Ron Woodroof’s fight for survival and ultimate self redemption after being diagnosed with HIV; on the other it’s a damning indictment of the huge American drug companies who care more for profit than the saving of lives. When we meet Woodroof he’s the epitome of white trailer trash; a xenophobic, homophobic – pretty much everyone that’s different from him-phobic – drug addict who cares for little more than the false pleasures at the end of a bottle and between a hooker’s legs. When he wakes up in hospital with the news that he’s contracted a deadly virus, his journey to atonement begins.
Woodroof’s development is subversively depicted in numerous ways throughout the story; the most obvious being his personal attitude towards woman and homosexuals, to the point where he actually defends such individuals from the insults of an ex-best friend, but more subtly it’s revealed through the narrative. When he first sets off to Mexico to find unapproved drugs it’s for his own gain, then when he heads back to the US with a trunk-load of said drugs, it’s for personal profit. Yet through no real intent he gradually realises what he’s doing isn’t simply a money-making operation; what he’s doing is important. People need these drugs more than the filth the drug companies are pawning off, and his bank account begins to dwindle to make it happen – a revelation most telling of Woodroof’s growth.
There’s no doubt the film and character are greatly enhanced by a brilliant performance from Matthew McConaughey, who slides from one of the spectrum to the other with ostensible ease. And, indeed, the film is elevated in all areas by terrific performances; Jared Leto is extraordinary as transvestite Rayon who becomes partners with Woodroof in his titular Dallas Buyers Club, and Jennifer Garner is quietly effective in an important role opposite McConaughey.
Whether you’re won over by the performances, the redemptive nature of the story or the social/political commentary on drug companies and profit-hungry corporations trickling through the narrative, there’s something for everyone to take away. Dallas Buyers Club not only has important things to say, but it says them elegantly.