Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Duration: 117 mins
Release Date: 13 February, 2014
Stephen A Russell for thelowdownunder.com says: “French Canadian writer/director Jean-Marc Vallée (Café de Flore) tackles the true story of HIV/AIDS activists Ron Woodroofe and transgender woman Rayon as they took on the Reganite establishment and the big pharma companies to secure treatment that wasn’t actually worse than the disease at the height of the crisis. A moustachioed and alarmingly gaunt Matthew McConaughey portrays heterosexual, homophobic hustler Woodroof, who we first see having sex with two ladies in the shadows of a rodeo, bareback symbolism noted. Soon he’s being hounded by punters he’s ripped off in a dodgy betting scam and gets himself deliberately arrested by decking a local cop before things take a stark turn when, after a collapse, he’s informed that he has HIV and a projected 30 days to live, much to his disbelieving fury and howls of, “I ain’t no homo”.
His drinking, cocaine snorting and rampant womanising promptly stops, replaced with diligent study of the disease, its treatments and scientific progress. Buying stolen AZT from a corrupt hospital cleaner, he proves to be a right pain in the bum for kindly doctor Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) and the more caustic Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare). Soon he’s telling them how to manage their patients, convinced their harsh treatment is counter-productive. This hunch takes him to Mexico and the illegal clinic of a disgraced doctor, played by Griffin Dunne, who suggests a combination of drugs and supplements to better manage symptoms without ravaging the body. It’s not long before Woodrof hits on a plan to sell these non-FDA-approved cocktails north of the border. That’s where Jared Leto’s Rayon comes in.
With more connection to the largely gay patients, and a better bedside manner, Rayon is the perfect foil for Woodroof’s cynical business savvy, and they soon have queues round the block for their black market buyer’s club, despite the best efforts of the law to shut them down. Woodroof goes on a global jaunt to uncover the most effective treatments being administered overseas, with the aim of bringing them back for bigger profits at home. Yes, the film’s a little simplistic with the facts and omits the role of groups like Act Up, but it’s a rollicking good story well-told and Vallée commands superbly nuanced performances from both McConaughey and Leto, with their magnificent odd couple relationship rightly garnering considerable Oscar buzz.
Beyond compelling docos like How To Survive A Plague, there has been scant cinematic focus on the medical, rather than social, aspects of the crisis. Dallas Buyers Club also has truly sublime moments, such as an almost dreamlike scene in which Woodroof stands, arms aloft, in a steel room full of fluttering butterflies dancing in flickering, incandescent light. There’s also a wicked sense of humour, particularly in the interplay between Rayon and Woodroof.
There has been some understandable but ultimately unfair criticism that the Rayon role did not go to a transgendered actor, which of course would have been fantastic, but the reality is Dallas Buyers Club took almost two decades to get off the ground as it is; it never would have happened without two bankable stars. It is odd, however, that there is almost zero intimacy shown between any gay characters, including partners who do not even hold hands, never mind kiss, while McConaughey is shown having heterosexual sex several times. Condoms too, are oddly never discussed. Regardless, this is an entertaining, surprising and ultimately affecting movie that stands proud amongst an impressive year of cinema.
Rotten Tomatoes says: 93% – “Dallas Buyers Club rests squarely on Matthew McConaughey’s scrawny shoulders, and he carries the burden gracefully with what might be a career-best performance.”
The Guardian says: “This is a drama of entrepreneurial self-help from the Reaganite 1980s…Matthew McConaughey gives a barnstormer of a performance as Ron himself, one in which the weight-loss is the least interesting aspect.”
Entertainment weekly says: “It’s been 20 years since Tom Hanks put a movie star’s face on the AIDS crisis in Philadelphia. Since then, Hollywood has largely ignored one of the most tragic chapters of the 20th century. Considering that track record, even a movie as imperfect as Dallas Buyers Club is something worth celebrating”
See it: Before McConaughey wins the Oscar.