Film Review: 'Dallas Buyers Club'
Opened: 7 February 2014 (UK)
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Producers: Robbie Brenner, Nathan Ross, Rachel Rothman
With the race to the Oscars in the final stages here we have the last of the big contenders to throw its Texas cowboy hat into the ring. This is a script which has been in one pipeline or another for twenty years and endured numerous false starts. With the apparently undesirable subject matter of a homophobic cowboy selling drugs to dying homosexual aids sufferers the project has consistently been deemed untouchable. The same pitfall nearly scuppered this attempt to commit the script to celluloid as backers pulled out at the last minute. Nonetheless, production forged ahead on a budget of $5 million dollars (provided by new equity provider Truth Entertainment) and only 25 days to complete the shoot (down from 40 days). This was a labour of love, and it shows.
For what is easily the performance of his career Matthew McConaughey plays the charismatic yet charmless Ron Woodruff in this big screen telling of his true life story. There is no escaping that the movie completely rests on McConaughey’s shoulders as there is barely a scene in which he does not feature and he is effortlessly brilliant in each and every one of them. Defying all the archetypes we have come to associate with his on screen persona he shows gut punching vulnerability and a dark complexity that has certainly caught many previous detractors off guard. After undergoing truly shocking weight loss for this role he strikes a gaunt ghostly figure, but triumphantly reaches the audience on a universal human level rather than through a bulging chest or ripped abs. The same can be said of supporting co-star Jared Leto who gently shines as trans woman Rayon, breaching boundaries of gender identity to a place everybody can reach, summed up in the hauntingly delivered line: ‘I don’t want to die!’
Minor online controversy surrounding the accuracy of the portrayal of Woodruff as a homophobe, with some even suggesting that he was bisexual, is understandable but a little misplaced. During that period in history many would favour keeping such things private and would not want to openly be associated with the gay community. While we can all agree that this damages the credibility of the narrative truth of the movie (he also had a daughter and a sister who have been completely erased) it does not take away any of the bigger truths about the situation with HIV in the 80s and the desperation of those who had been left for dead by their government and shunned by the wider community.
Like many of the other historical movies hitting the big screen at the moment, The Railway Man and 12 Years a Slave come to mind, Dallas Buyers Club shows us a different side to a well known historical event furthering our understanding of the period and its struggles. The transformation of Woodruff in the film is clearly plotted and hard fought; he is no easy convert for the people he begins to treat, but through shared suffering and a common foe his outlook changes, just as anyone’s would when starring their own mortality square in the eye.
Combining historical elements with a well worked script and some career defining performances Dallas Buyers Club is profound without preaching and will connect with even the hardest of audiences by conveying its story in language that everyone can relate to.
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