Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Dallas Buyers Club sees Matthew McConaughey give a career-best performance in a film that not only works beautifully as a multilayered drama, but excels as a film with a powerful social agenda.
Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a Texas electrician whose world is turned upside down when he learns that he has been diagnosed with HIV in 1985. The film portrays Woodroof as a heavy-drinking, womanising homophobe, who is shocked to find out that he has contracted a virus that many considered to be primarily contracted by homosexual intercourse. As he struggles to come to terms with his rapidly deteriorating condition, he begins to search for medicine that can help. His search leads him to Mexico, and he begins to smuggle back pharmaceutical drugs that aren’t government-approved. Before long, Woodroof, with the help of Rayon, a transsexual played by Jared Leto, is providing unauthorised drugs for monthly fees.
Many have spoken about the collision between fact and fiction, especially regarding Woodroof’s character, but, while that may matter to many, this character works within the context of this very impressive film. Woodroof is a complex character. He is a man that transforms before our very eyes, thanks to McConaughey’s jaw-dropping performance. He is anything but a saint. He drinks, sleeps around and snorts cocaine every chance he gets. He goes from a man angrily exclaiming how impossible it is for him to have a disease which only affects “faggots”, to an unlikely AIDS activist representing a community stricken with the deadly disease. While much has been made about McConaughey’s obvious weight-loss for the role, it is his emotional and charismatic performance that really drives this film. A man unwaveringly determined to beat his condition, a man who took the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to court.
The film uses the classical film tropes associated with pictures depicting “the little man” taking on corporations and governments. There isn’t exactly a singular villain to be found here, apart from the AIDS virus itself, but the bad guys are depicted as the profit-chasing corporate-suits working for the FDA. Woodroof’s fight is clearly shown from a singular light: a man fighting against the FDA’s lack of action in getting effective treatments to those in desperate need. Woodroof’s struggle, at times, seems a little one-sided, but his fight is one that many stand for, as shown with the support he receives from supporting characters.
One of those who stand by Woodroof is Rayon, a drug-addicted transsexual equally as determined to look out for herself, but whose decidedly different persona works as the Ying to Woodroof’s Yang. Jared Leto’s portrayal of Rayon’s charismatic, witty and vulnerable persona is truly outstanding. The relationship between Rayon and Woodroof is heartbreakingly tender and realistic, made further impressive by the unsentimental approach the film is given. Jennifer Garner also provides a decent performance as Eve, a doctor who is slowly drawn into Woodroof and Rayon’s circumstances.
The film’s naturalistic style works wonders with the film’s plot. Director Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria) tackles the film in a matter-of-fact approach that lets the wonderful screenplay, by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, unfold on its own merit. Dallas Buyers Club empathises with its characters, leading us to do the same. Woodroof and Rayon’s stories are painful and dark, but the film doesn’t wallow in its depressing factors. Thankfully, there’s a wry sense of humour peppered throughout the film’s emotional plot, perfectly balancing out what may be one of the best takes on AIDS that the cinema has seen. The unsentimental approach detracts slightly from the film’s ending, as you’re left more pensive than moved. This may be the filmmaker’s point, but a big emotional payoff is left wanting. This is but a minor qualm to be had in a film bursting with talent. Dallas Buyers Club is a soulful picture that is expertly crafted, lovingly written, confidently directed and admirably performed.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10