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Dallas Buyers Club (Film Review)

Matthew McConaughy provides another star turn in a movie about a man who is blindsided by a HIV diagnosis and given 30 days to live.

Title: Dallas Buyers Club

Cert: 15

Release date: Out Now

McConaissance | məˈkÉ™nˈÉ™’säns | – to experience a startling turn of form and fortune for an actor who was only previously seen acting wooden in romantic comedies (see Matthew Mahogany): ‘he is experiencing a McConaissance’.

Until 2011 the only real newsworthy thing Matthew McConaughey offered the world was to be caught naked smoking pot and playing the bongos.  His film role choices have always left something to be admired, or even remembered.  Dialling in his lazy, stoned surfer type in such classics as Sahara, Fool’s Gold and Surfer Dude, he didn’t exactly make any enemies playing to type.  But then, few could be forgiven for thinking he had any talent at all.

However in recent years, back to back star turns in Killer Joe, Mud, Magic Mike, The Wolf of Wall Street have and the upcoming Sky Atlantic series True Detective have seen him jump from tabloid fodder to Oscar darling.   His latest offering continues this bizarre change of fates and looks set to win him the best actor gong in March.

McConaughey plays Ron Woodruf, an electrician and wannabe cowboy in the late 1980s who contracts HIV during one of many forgettable encounters with local prostitutes and is given 30 days to live. His homophobia, bravado and rage at his diagnosis is steadily replaced with a new found humanity and lease on life, thanks to fellow sufferer and pre-op transexual, Rayon played by Jared Leto, and a loop hole in the law, allowing Woodruf to set up the titular club which provides effective unlicensed drugs for free to sufferers who pay a monthly fee.

Based loosely on a true story, buyers clubs became popular in America as the AIDS crisis worsened and patients became increasingly frustrated at the lack of FDA approved medication to treat them in time.  Sufferers, whose terminal condition left them with with little or no fear of reprisals, turned to unlicensed drugs provided to them by buyers clubs who sourced the drugs outside of the country.  McConaughey’s Woodruf, a far more likeable man in reality according to reports, begins as a belligerent homophobe who eventually becomes the unexpected hero, rallying against the FDA and the systems which stand in the way of his, and his new found allies’ mortality.

Despite its heavy subject matter, director Jean-Marc Vallee focuses on the characters instead of the subject matter, and stand out performances from McConaughey and Leto (both up for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively) draw in the audience with their opposing outlooks on their own mortality which twist and turn as the story evolves.

Both are shadows of the actors we’re used to seeing on screen, McConaughey reportedly lost 30lbs for the role and his gaunt figure makes for uncomfortable viewing, with long drawn out shots of his skinny frame deteriorating as his fortunes grow.  Leto is an even starker contrast, frail and nervous, and carrying an overshadowing emotional frailty that deepens as the film progresses.

It’s worth sparing a thought for Jennifer Garner, who puts in an admirable performance as Woodruf’s doctor, battling between her own humanity and the expectations of her employers and the FDA, portrayed as little more than villainous protagonists to be rallied against.

This is McConaughey’s movie though, a terrific performance whose character arc is not unfairly comparable to Denzel Washington in Philadelphia, whilst also suffering the indignities of a brutal and debilitating illness.

Humanity, mortality and even occasional humour, Dallas Buyers Club is an emotionally heartfelt and uncomfortable story that like it’s subject matter, puts the people before the politics.  Its standout performances from the lead actors often overshadow an interesting subject but this is to little negative effect, and overall makes for an entertaining and thought provoking movie that should captivate audiences and Oscar panels alike.


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