Ah this is more like it.
This review is also up at Channel 24
Based on the true story, it's 1985 and
Ron Woodroof has just been diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to
live, but his determination and sense of self preservation gives him
a new lease on life as he takes on the medical establishment and
starts offering help – for a price, of course – to AIDS patients
like himself by bringing in non-FDA-approved drugs into America from
What we thought
Whatever else you might say about the
film, Dallas Buyer's Club features what may be the highpoint in
Matthew McConaughey's career-reinventing “McConeissance”. After
making a career of starring - generally sans shirt - in truly awful
romantic comedies, the past couple of years have found McConaughey
consciously correcting the course of his acting career and giving
breathtaking performances in some truly impressive films. From
playing a romantic fugitive in Mud to wowing everyone as a
particularly brutal contract killer in Killer Joe, McConaughey has
been knocking it out of the park on a seemingly monthly basis. Add to
that some now-typically brilliant work alongside the perennially
underrated Woody Harrelson in the terrifically slow-burning crime
series, True Detective, and you're left with simply one of the
greatest career reinventions in cinema history.
McConaughey's role in Dallas Buyers
Club not only adds to that but it presents a new set of acting
challenges in that he not only has to play a largely unlikable
redneck as a sympathetic and compelling lead, he also has to avoid
the temptation of giving in to the usual cliches of what could easily
be a typically cynical Oscar-baiting role. Unsurprisingly,
McConaughey conquers these challenges with virtuoso ease. His work
here is subtle, multi-layered, compelling and emotionally riveting as
he navigates the Woodroof's more detestable moments with great care
as he makes us care about this man, even when we're very strongly
disagreeing with his particular viewpoints on life. He also had to
lose an ungodly amount of weight for the role but, really, that's the
least impressive thing about his performance here.
While McConaughy is the main selling
point of the film, though, it would be disingenuous to suggest that
Dallas Buyers Club is nothing more than a great performance. Or even
- when you factor in Jared Leto who came out of nowhere to deliver a
seriously, unexpectedly great performance as a transvestite who
becomes Woodruff's reluctant partner and even more reluctant friend
and closest confident - two great performances.
It has a sharp, funny script by Craig
Morten and Melisa Wallack that ensures that the film is an enjoyable,
entertaining piece of cinema, despite its very heavy subject matter.
Canadian Director, Jean-Marc Vallee's direction is similarly
impressive as he gets out of the way and allows the performances, the
characters and the story to do most of the talking. The slightly
dusty visuals and sharp attention to '80s period detail does make it
a decidedly cinematic experience though and it never comes even
remotely close to TV-movie-of-the-week issue-tainment.
It's a really, really good movie in
other words, but it doesn't quite match, say, Her, Inside Llewyn
Davis, 12 Years a Slave or even the unabashedly sentimental Saving Mr
Banks in terms of thematic richness. It's portrayal of the US medical
establishment is also a touch too cartoony – which is really saying
something when you consider that the America is infamous for having a
medical system that represents capitalism at its worst, as it treats
human lives as secondary to the almighty American dollar.
Small flaws aside then, Dallas Buyers
Club is another must-see movie to come out of this year's incredibly
rich awards season. And though my pick is still Chiwetel Ejiofor for
best actor for Sunday's Academy Awards, I would be more than happy if
the “McConeissance” is represented by a win for McConaughey's
sterling work here.