We are entering the next stage in the so called ‘The Matthew McConassaince’ ladies and gentlemen. Following a great performance in last year’s Mud, McConaughey can seemingly do no wrong and this performance surpasses the excellently high standards he set in Mud.
Dallas Buyers’ Club is the story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey and his unlikely partnership with transgender woman Rayon (Jared Leto) after contracting HIV. They set up the titular Dallas Buyers Club, which, through a loop hole allows them distribute non FDA approved and safer medicine to fellow HIV sufferers.
The film is a little formulaic in my opinion but is graciously redeemed by amazing performances pretty much across the board. The two that stand out are McConaughey and Leto, both of whom I would have no complaints over if they walked away with this year’s Oscar for best performance in a lead and supporting role, respectively. Where Leto faces stiff competition from the likes of Barkhad Abdi and Michael Fassbender, McConaughey’s performance is simply the best of the this year’s contenders (yes even edging out Ejiofor).
It’s one of those full bells and whistles performances – and in the words of John Hammond, McConaughey “spared no expense”. The most obvious and alarming aspect of the performance is the weight loss but it is complemented by a whole range of nuanced tricks to partially distract one from it. The weight loss does not dominate the performance, which would have been very easily done, especially when compared to Christian Bale’s transformation for The Machinist. McConaughey inhabits and breathes life into the character of Ron.
From any summary and trailer of the film it may sound and look like a typically clichéd story about a good old American bucking the system in order to help needy people, but it strays just enough away from that territory. If anything Ron is completely reluctant to help gay people with HIV, and at the beginning and his motives seem mostly driven by a desire for money and self-preservation. In fact at the beginning he is strictly opposed to the LGBT movement, when told that HIV can be caused by homosexual activities, Ron says that he “ain’t no faggot” then proceeds to exit and stampede through the hospital.
Surprisingly, there is a large rubber shaped gap in a film about unsafe sex. There is a paucity concerning condoms (to my mind) aren’t mentioned at all, and once diagnosed, Ron abstains from all (ahem) sexual activity. Instead, it seems that the gay community needed a straight macho capitalist cowboy to save them; although this line of reasoning is admittedly tenuous.
I would say that Ron is not an amoral man – far from it – rather, he is opportunistic and seizes any chance he gets, however this does not restrict character development. We do get to see him grow and change throughout the course of the film into much kinder and accepting person, though not wholly in my opinion. He does change into someone who actually cares for the plight of HIV/AIDS stricken people but there is always that niggling feeling that he is just merely using them for capital gain. Without giving away any spoilers, there is an EVENT that happens towards the end (ish) of the film, and the film looks as if to brush over it as if it were “just one of those things”, this is entirely the point. Though we do see Ron’s reaction (and it’s what we expect) we get a sense that in this world that Ron inhabits, life does go on and you have to roll with the punches. In the end, his character is marred with a mixture of sentimentality and an opportunistic eye.
The score aides the feel of character development rather well, for example in the early parts of the film the score is mainly comprised of drug fuelled Americana/Country music (hopefully someone will correct me) but slowly regresses until it becomes much more sombre, thus reflecting Woodroof’s changed character.
In my American Hustle review I criticised it for its lack harmony between comedy and drama, and Dallas Buyers’ Club is an excellent example of what I meant when I said that. There many good hearty laughs to be had during Dallas Buyers’ Club which stem from the apparently too absurd to be true situations Ron finds himself in, but the film never forgets what is important – the drama; crucially, the film is more assured about what type of film it is.
It is a very audience friendly film (not a bad thing) but it still has something meaningful to bring to the table and debate surrounding HIV and our cultural attitudes towards it. On the other hand, whatever it has to say is drowned out by two staggering performances by McConaughey and Leto – as exemplified by how I chose to begin this review, and what to focus on. I haven’t mentioned Leto’s performance but it is simply breath taking, I wasn’t expecting this amount of quality from Leto, so it’s a real treat to be wowed (and proven wrong) like that. If you go and see it just for McConaughey’s (and Leto’s) performance, you won’t be disappointed at all.