Dallas Buyers Club: Review
Posted on February 12, 2014
This emotionally charged film based on the true story of Ron Woodruff who defied odds when diagnosed with HIV and given only 30 days to live, sees the reinvented rom-com actor Matthew McConaughey at his career-best.
A string of recent indie film roles from Killer Joe (2011) to Magic Mike and Mud (2012) have put McConaughey on the map, but his performance in Dallas Buyers Club demonstrates even greater finesse. Shedding 47 pounds for the role, McConaughey completely inhabits the rage and determination of macho Dallas bull rider, Ron Woodroof in his struggle to obtain and distribute alternative treatments, unapproved by the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration).
A man is thrown from a bull and gored while Woodroof engages in frantic post-rodeo sex with two women just outside the ring. It’s an opening metaphor that sets the tone for director Jean-Marc Vallee’s (The Young Victoria, Cafe de Flore) finest work to date. Anxiety builds as Vallee supplies intense close-ups from Woodroof’s reckless love-making, to his mouth dripping blood from a fight and a leg crushed in an accident at work. Vallee derives tension from our awareness of Woodroof’s condition, while Woodroof himself remains unaware of the risks.
“Woodroof’s is a remarkable story of bravery, endurance and human rights”
As Woodroof comes to terms with his diagnosis, the tension mellows and the focus shifts to Woodroof’s potent homophobia. It’s a facet of his character that generates further complexities as he is is ostracised by heterosexual colleagues whose understanding of HIV is severely limited.
‘I guess you’re handsome, in a Texas, hick, white trash, dumb kind of way,’ says Rayon, a transsexual who’s also HIV-positive. Yet Woodroof is far from dumb. In the wake of his diagnosis Woodroof trawls the library, figuring out his medical options. Dallas Buyers Club revels in challenging perceptions.
It is Jared Leto’s kind and unexpectedly buoyant AIDs sufferer Rayon, that eventually triggers the softening of Woodroof’s narrow-minded outlook. Leto’s is a stellar performance and one that’s already seen him take home a Golden Globe. As Dallas Buyers Club moves forward, we are treated to some convincing character development by screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and the film’s first-rate cast. McConaughey capably handles Woodroof’s internal wrestle with his drugs distribution network as business versus charity.
The genius of Dallas Buyers Club lies in the way it seamlessly blends an emotional, character driven story with a meaty debate about FDA drug approval. ‘Screw the FDA. I’m gonna be DOA,’ says Woodroof, challenging the medical system that places drug trials above treatment for the terminally ill while it pushes toxic medication, AZT. With these events taking place just 29 years ago, Vallee presents a world which is recognisable and makes Dallas Buyers Club feel like essential viewing.
But Dallas Buyers Club is not just a vehicle for a serious message. It’s also fiercely cinematic. While it’s pretty near impossible to take your eyes off the Matthew McConaughey’s disturbing, ailing physique, Vallee gives us some striking visuals from fluttering butterflies to candlelit bars that take on a religious significance. Sound too is used as a recurring signpost with a sharp and unpleasant ringing – imitating the sensation in Woodroof’s own ears as he nears collapse – that pervades the auditorium.
The complexity of drug trials and the bias of pharmaceutical companies take on an emotional dimension as Dallas Buyers Club unleashes the tragic nature of HIV and Woodroof’s determined battle to survive. Woodroof’s is a remarkable story of bravery, endurance and human rights brought to the big screen with career-best performances from McConaughey and Leto. Dallas Buyers Club is essential viewing that should not be missed.
VERDICT: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ 5/5
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