Over the past few years Matthew McConaughey has seen an intense career reinvention. He’s gone from being the butt of jokes for staring in terrible rom-coms to giving consistently excellent performances in much darker films. His performances in Killer Joe, Bernie, Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street were excellent and, even though I haven’t seen them, I’ve heard great things about his performances in The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike and True Detective. All that was needed was an Oscar worthy performance and his revival would be complete and this was that performance and it helps that the film itself is really good.
The plot concerns Ron Woodroof, a rodeo cowboy and electrician who gets diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and given 30 days left to live. After the FDA approved AZT doesn’t help him, he goes to Mexico and is given more effective medication. He gets the idea to set up a buyers club to sell the drugs, using the loophole that he’s selling memberships not drugs, to make money, using the help of transgender woman Rayon to gain a greater clientele until the FDA comes in to shut down the operation for selling unapproved drugs, which they recently declared to be illegal. What I really like about the film is that it doesn’t shy away from the discrimination that people suffering from HIV suffered during this time period. At this time, HIV was known as a gay epidemic meaning that anyone who suffered from the disease suffered from homophobic attacks, including people like Woodroof. You understand the pain that is felt by anyone who was diagnosed with the disease and the level of hatred towards people with the disease and how someone like Woodroof would change from a homophobe to someone who respects the LGBT community. I also love how the film implies that the pharmaceutical companies had a vested interest in AZT and made it so the other drugs were unapproved in order to ensure that they had the majority share in the market. It’s all incredibly interesting stuff and through the eyes of Woodroof, we see how the victims of HIV were seeing so much wrong happen to them at the time.
The thing that really makes the film great though are the 2 central performances. Matthew McConaughey is incredible as Woodroof. He has this easy charm which lets you know how he was able to convince people to join up with him but doesn’t let you forget the discrimination that he both has towards the LGBT community and he faced. The looks of grief as he realises just how severe his situation is are heartbreaking and the extent of the weight loss he goes through for the end of the film is astonishing. Jared Leto is also great as Rayon, he brings in a lot of humour and heart to the film and also a great deal of pain for what the character is going through, mainly in regards to drug addiction and the effects of the disease and you see how the character is using humour and her relationship to Ron as a coping mechanism to deal with the pain she is going through. The thing is though, all of that stuff comes through more from the performance than the writing. Honestly, I feel that Rayon is a poorly written character made great by the performance. In fact, for most of the characters, the writing lets them down. Steve Zahn does good work but he isn’t given a whole lot to do in the film whilst Michael O’Neill gives a good performance for a completely one-note character. The only real weak link in the cast is Jennifer Garner, she does good work but she feels a bit bland in regards to the other cast members and the character isn’t given much to do in the script, feeling a bit one-note.
Overall, Dallas Buyers Club is a really good film. The plot dives into a lot of really intriguing areas in regards to those suffering from AIDS at the time and the acting is incredible but the film is let down by the writing of every character aside from Ron Woodroof being underdeveloped, preventing the film from being excellent.
My Rating: 4/5