Is there any other actor who has achieved the kind of credibility comeback that Matthew McConaughey has in the past couple of years? Okay, maybe Ben Affleck, but he had to step behind the camera to do it and the recent “Batman” furore shows that while he’s carved out a respected reputation as a director audiences are still wary of his abilities in front of the camera. But McConaughey? Wow. Reduced almost to the point of irrelevancy being Hollywood’s go-to guy for vacuous Rom Coms and douche-baggy action lunks, he’s managed a stunning turn of fortune and performance in successive films such as “Bernie”, “Mud” and “Killer Joe”, “Magic Mike” and “The Wolf Of Wall Street”.
“Dallas Buyers Club” puts him firmly back into the A-list of powerhouse actors capable of delivering real heart, conviction and meaning. His committed, mesmeric and physically drastic performance as Ron Woodroof is the culmination of his ascent back to the top of his craft.
Based on a true story, “Dallas Buyers Club” tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a redneck electrician and rodeo cowboy is diagnosed with AIDS and given thirty days to live. Determinedly heterosexual, Ron initially rejects the diagnosis until he recalls having unprotected sex with an intravenous drug user and becomes determined to find ways to extend his life.
He starts by bribing a hospital porter to supply him with an experimental AIDS drug being trialled at his local hospital. He soon sees an opportunity to exploit his fellow AIDS victims by supplying them with non-approved treatments which puts him on a collision course with the FDA and ‘Big Pharma’.
This is a film tightly focussed on the characters and while the devastating effect of the AIDS virus in the eighties is woven throughout the fabric of the story, it’s never itself the focal point of the film. Instead, it’s a moving, funny and bittersweet tale of three people brought together by the virus and the need to live, not just survive.
McConaughey’s sensational performance is matched note for note by Jared Leto’s incredible portrayal of Woodroof’s reluctant business partner Rayon, an HIV-positive transgender woman. Leto is utterly convincing and his fiercely sassy, but quietly vulnerable turn is one of this great movies many highlights. The third member of the trinity which underpins the movie is Jennifer Garner. As the earnest young doctor she is perfectly adequate, which tends to be the level Garner usually operates at. Unfortunately here she is so outclassed by her cast mates that she becomes something of a distraction. She’s doing her best here, but McConaughey and Leto are operating on a whole different level, and the film is richer when she isn’t on screen.
I would hope this film provokes a lot of soul-searching within the FDA, because they don’t come out of this whole affair very well at all. Their primary duty is to protect people but in this case act as advocates and defenders of the big Pharmaceutical companies who see new drugs as profit opportunities, not lifesaving breakthroughs.
The real genius of this film is that it manages to deal with huge, serious and weighty issues; life, sex, money – even death itself – without ever becoming maudlin, pompous or preachy. Director Jean-Marc Vallée and writers Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack are careful to keep the tone energetic and cautiously hopeful despite the bleak subject matter and succeed in creating a compelling, challenging and triumphantly humanising drama.