Saturday, 22 February 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

Academy Award Nominations: 6

  • Best Picture
  • Best Original Screenplay (Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack)
  • Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto)
  • Best Editing (John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa)
  • Best Make-Up and Hairstyling (Adruitha Lee, Robin Mathews)

Ron Woodroof leads a bachelors lifestyle in the late 80s with strippers, cocaine and booze... Until he gets HIV. Then, he becomes a pariah, and is told he only has 30 days to live, but he refuses to give up so easily. The latest drug to fight HIV hasn't yet been approved, but he's eager to get his hands on it, so he ends up stealing it from the hospital, but when the supply run dry, he goes to Mexico. When he gets there, however, he finds a former doctor who's leading the fight against HIV symptoms in his own run down 'clinic' with drugs and remedies which are unavailable and unapproved in America. Ron sees an opportunity, and sets up the Dallas Buyers Club: A club where you pay for a monthly membership to receive as many drugs as you need. It's only when he teams up with transgender woman Rayon that business really begins to pick up...

What in the world happened to Matthew McConaughey's career? Here are the highlights of his mainstream career from 1999-2009: EdTV, U-571, The Wedding Planner, Tiptoes, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Failure to Launch, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. The jokes were rife: He couldn't appear in a film without being contractually obligated to take his shirt off. He was a laughing stock of sorts. Then, all of a sudden, a renaissance began: The Lincoln Lawyer in 2011 gave us a different side of McConaughey, one that could act. Then followed Bernie. Then Killer Joe. Then The Paperboy. Then Mud, Magic Mike, Wolf of Wall Street and now... Dallas Buyers Club. He's made his Hollywood money, now he's taking on smaller passion projects that allow him to flex his acting muscles, and boy is he ever, because Dallas Buyers Club centers on a phenomenal McConaughey performance.

McConaughey is the glue that holds this film together; it's focused on his character and he's in every single scene, acting his heart out, though at times, you wonder if it wasn't actually a performance as an HIV victim in constant agony; given his dramatic weight loss for the role, his pain may well have been real. Regardless, his sacrifice only adds to the majestic performance. It's hard to imagine a film like this, with a plot as weighty as this, working with anyone else trying to carry the Woodroof character. There's two sides to the character, there's the headstrong homophobe from before the illness and the compassionate, ailing, strongwilled fighter who accepts his fate but fights against it, and McConaughey is able to carry both sides extremely well. There's some cross over with the characters, certainly, but it takes two different performances for the two sides of the film as the same character, something which I've seen actors try and fail to do previously, so McConaughey is worthy of acknowledgement for the hard work he puts into this. That's not to say he isn't ably supported by a strong cast.

Indeed, Jared Leto is the second man grabbing headlines from this film and rightfully so, his performance as Rayon, the transgender woman who helps Woodroof establish and run the Dallas Buyers Club is fantastic, acting as a juxtaposition to Woodroof. It's an extreme departure from what Leto's ever had to do before; the closest he ever got to a role like this before, playing someone so emotionally raw, would be Requiem for a Dream, which was a whole 14 years ago at this point. It's also nice to see Jennifer Garner giving a performance with a hint of emotion and realism for the first time in 10 years. In recent years, in films like Juno and The Invention of Lying, she's always been wooden and emotionless, as if she'd lost her edge, but she seems reinvigorated here and delivers a good performance in support of McConaughey. Other than that though, it's hard to pick anybody else out of the cast as a highlight; that's not to say they're bad, they're merely functional in their job. It just seems everybody else is a bystander to the top three cast members, which isn't hard to see why: It's still hard to talk about HIV/AIDS on film.

HIV/AIDS is still a taboo subject in cinema, even with films like Philadelphia, Precious and Rent becoming mainstream films that deal with the issue. It's easy to show the number of sufferers as Dallas Buyers Club, it's easy to show a queue of people which grows throughout the film in order to give more impact to the seriousness of the situation the developed world found itself in with the virus in the 1980s. It's a lot harder to show the individual, unique impact it has on the sufferers' lives. Even showing two main characters suffering from the virus is an advance for mainstream American cinema, especially as their suffering is shown in two very different ways. It's never glorified, this isn't pornographic in any way regarding the virus, but it shows the harsh reality of everyday life with HIV/AIDS from two unique angles. The editing is superb, and the direction is subtle and understated yet powerful and deliberate. Make sense? Probably not. It's good, it fits well with the themes of the story, which is the overriding story to take away from this film.

Ultimately, everything just fits together so nicely here. The film has been technically well made, the script is powerful yet never explicit or exploitative of its subject matter, and the performances on display are extremely well crafted and have the power to shock, awe and sympathise. It's a tough film to watch, as are most films regarding the subject of HIV/AIDS, but it's got a heart in the middle of it, a story of survival against an indeterminate amount of struggle and it's captivating. But the headline here is undoubtedly McConaughey. Where was he hiding performances like this one 10 years ago, even 3 years ago? He's rebuilt his career to a point where he may well be seen as one of the most respected actors in the industry today. It's an incredibly powerful film to watch, and it only develops in your thoughts as time passes. Ron Woodroof is a bastard, but Matthew McConaughey is an excellent actor.

Rating: ****1/2

Dallas Buyers Club was released on 7th February 2014 and is still being shown in cinemas.