Dallas Buyers Club: Movie Review
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn, Denis O'Hare
Director: Jean Marc-Vallee
With 6 Oscar nominations in tow, and already picking up trophy success for its lead actor, Matthew McConaughey (who's now clearly a front runner to scoop the Best Actor at the Oscars), Dallas Buyers Club now finally hits the NZ streets.
Based on a true story in 1985 Dallas, McConaughey stars as homophobic womaniser, a financial chancer, electrician and rodeo rider Ron Woodroof whose life is turned upside down when a random hospitalisation leads to the revelation that he has HIV and is given only 30 days left to live.
As he begins to sicken, Ron's ostracised from his friends and family who struggle with the stigma and ignorance of AIDS as the epidemic spreads across America. Initially he finds he's unable to obtain the new drug AZT, which is meant to help; but by bribing a hospital orderly he gets his hands on it - but, despite the promises from the doctors, it makes him sicker, putting him back in hospital.
Ron manages to get word of a clinic down in Mexico which could treat him and heading there, he discovers the damage that AZT is causing to his health and others. Consequently he begins an alternative treatment which he starts to smuggle into America - and a happenstance meeting with transgender Rayon (Leto in a wonderfully compassionate turn) convinces him there is a market for these drugs and the hope they bring....so, setting up a Buyers Club, Ron begins his fight for non-FDA approved drugs, those who need them and his own fight for life.
Dallas Buyers Club delivers a career best performance from McConaughey - while his physical form initially shocks, thanks to a wiry and almost skeletal physique, he also delivers something more than the transformation which has real bluster, lust for life and is a searing turn which stays with you long after the film has finished. There's just something award-worthy about McConaughey, who's electric from the moment he hits the screen and who commands your sympathy despite his initially abhorrent homophobic nature as he begins his quest toward redemption.
While Woodroof sees the Buyers Club as a chance to make some money off the sick while saving himself, it's the interaction with Rayon that leads to the epiphany that the hustler Ron can play a greater part in the AIDS epidemic. But it's McConaughey and Leto who totally convince us of this rather than relying on mawkish sentimentality and overacting to push the narrative along. It's their Odd Couple vibe which makes all the difference - and when that falls apart towards the end, the movie suffers a little of a lull as the dynamic falters.
Leto in particular brings a softness to Rayon, which is needed to smooth off the rougher edges of Woodroof's character, and he brings a heartbreaking performance to the screen which has been rightly applauded.
The film itself has a vein of humour running throughout and for the most part, it hits the right note between delivering slightly irreverent laughs and the obvious conflict of Jennifer Garner's Doctor Saks wanting the best for her patients. While that side of the film lets it down slightly, Marc-Vallee keeps the pace zipping along and avoids a maudlin tone creeping in. The only wrong note it really hits is in the final moments when a crucial player is lost - it's here that the sentimentality creeps in unnecessarily, miring the film in a mawkish slop.
Dallas Buyers Club delivers an experience that's unforgettable - once you get past the physicalities of what Leto and McConaughey did, you'll realise the film is about one man's redemption, a rejection of greed over altruism and a celebration of how in the darkest days, even some can shine a bright light of hope to many.