Dallas Buyers Club
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée.
Screenplay: Craig Borten, Melissa Wallack.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Michael O’Neill, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Rankin, J.D. Evermore.
“Let me give y’all a little news flash. There ain’t nothin’ out there can kill fuckin’ Ron Woodroof in 30 days”
There has been no better or more consistent actor over the last few years than that of Matthew McConaughey. It’s a fact! From someone who started a bright early career and worked with the likes of such quality directors as Richard Linklater, John Sayles, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, he soon drifted into the dreaded rom-com territory that’s no better than drifting into obscurity altogether. His reputation wasn’t amounting to his early promise and it seemed he would never recover. So when did it all go right for him then? Well, in 2011, he got back in tow with Linklater to do “Bernie” and followed that up with dark and blisteringly brave performances in William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe“, Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy” and Steven Soderbergh’s “Magic Mike“. It didn’t stop there, though. He continued his solid work in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” and a brief but excellent role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf Of Wall Street” before finally delivering this awards laden performance in “Dallas Buyers Club“. The resurrection of his career is complete and McConaughey’s work has now, rightfully, gained the respect of critics and viewers alike.
The true story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a hard-drinking, homophobic, Texan Rodeo Rider who discovers one day that he’s HIV positive. He’s given 30 days to live but he point-blank refuses to accept it and learns all he can about the disease and gets involved in backmarket medicine that’s been proven to help – instead of the government issued treatment that was actually harming patients.
In making it to the screen, the extraordinary true story of Ron Woodroof was one that was fraught with production problems. In the mid 90’s it had Woody Harrelson attached to the lead with Dennis Hopper on directing duties before it’s financial backing fell through. It then crossed the path of director Marc Forster with Brad Pitt taking on Woodroof. That also fell through before Craig Gillespie and Ryan Gosling entered into talks in 2008. Before anything was decided French/Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée signed up and cast Matthew McConaughey in what’s, arguably, the most powerful role he’s ever had. Ron Woodroof is a fascinating character and McConaughey’s embodiment of him is a tour-de-force performance. Dropping 47lbs, McConaughey’s transformation is astonishing. He looks gaunt, withered and seriously ill and masterfully captures both the impending fate of Woodroof and his drive to survive. In order to survive, though, he had to go against medical practice and fight for the right to treat himself with drugs that were unapproved by the government. In doing so, he became somewhat of a saviour to AIDS victims across America during the 80’s despite the government and the law fighting him at every step.
It’s an extraordinary story that’s depicted with heart and passion and being shot on a relative shoestring budget, adds to it’s palpable sense of realism. Granted, with a script that’s lay in limbo for 20 years or so, there are some creaks and cracks and some slight distortions of facts and dramatic licence on show but this is a film that has a voice and one that demands to be heard. In fact, it’s still relevant today. Not just for the community of HIV sufferers but across the treatment of many illnesses. An example being, the government’s refusal to accept that cannabis can be used for medicinal purposes and that it’s oils are known to help in cancer treatment. This, of course, doesn’t suit the pharmaceutical companies and the business to be made from their “legalised” products. Comparisons have been made between “Dallas Buyer’s Club” and Jonathan Demme’s “Philadelphia” but I reckon the comparison extends further to Michael Mann’s “The Insider” and another example of the small man fighting corporate business, as Jeffrey Wigand did with the tobacco industry.
Comparisons aside, this is still a strong piece of work and it benefits massively from it’s committed performers. Too often an actors physical transformation can suggest that that’s enough to merit a great performance but McConaughey is more than that here. His acting, really is, top quality stuff and he’s supported by Jared Leto with equally impressive commitment. These two actors have been sweeping the awards boards of late and if they go on to win the Oscar, I certainly wouldn’t be arguing about it.
Trivia: Jared Leto lost 30lbs and stayed in character as Rayon throughout filming. At one point, he went grocery shopping in character at a local Whole Foods where he received numerous stares and double takes.