Starring: Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Jennifer Garner (Juno), Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream), Steve Zahn (Out of Sight), Denis O’Hare (Milk), Michael O’Neill (Transformers)
Director: Jean-Marc Valée (The Young Victoria)
Writers: Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack (Mirror Mirror)
Runtime: 1 hour 57 minutes
Release Date: 22 November (US), 7 February (UK)
The subject of HIV is a very sensitive one, and one that has been covered several times in films such as Philadelphia and The Hours to name a couple. So the subject matter isn’t exactly an unexplored territory. But Dallas Buyers Club isn’t just a film about AIDS. It’s a film about trying to help others, fighting for what you believe in, and becoming a better person in the process.
Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story. That doesn’t mean it’s 100% accurate, but what movie is? The important thing is that the film works not just as a story but also as a great character piece. Ron Woodruff (McConaughey) isn’t always an easy to like guy. At the start of the film, he’s a rude, ignorant, homophobic cokehead. It would be easy for the film to pull the “sympathy purely because of illness” card, but it doesn’t. What Woodruff lacks in common sense he makes up for in sheer determination to survive, and that determination leads him down a path away from death and towards saving himself and others. It’s a well-written story full of strong emotional moments, but also manages to sprinkle in enough levity to stop depression from kicking in. I only have two main flaws with the film. Firstly, I felt the antagonists were portrayed a little too one-dimensionally. They seemed far too aggressive and ignorant, almost as if they wanted to make sure people died. I know it helps make Woodruff’s plight that much more difficult, but these people seem a tad too negative to be real. Secondly, I though the ending felt a bit rushed. After all this build-up, the film quickly wraps itself up with little time to linger on the events that have just passed. Then again, I guess the fact I wanted the movie to keep going is a sign that it was doing something right.
It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, Matthew McConaughey was written off by most people as a dumb Texan pretty boy who seemed allergic to shirts. Now, he’s giving great performance after great performance, and his role here makes his spectacular work in Mud seem like a warm-up act. It’s not just the physical transformation he’s gone through that is impressive. Its how charming and likable McConaughey manages to make this guy even when he’s still a rotten scoundrel. Even during these early scenes, you get a sense that deep down inside this guy has a heart, and when he comes around it just makes it that much more powerful. It’s one of his finest performances and is very worthy of its Academy Award nomination. But for as good as McConaughey is, Jared Leto gets just as much time to steal the show. He has gone through an even more drastic physical change, but he truly inhabits the character of Rayon and makes every moment seem pitch perfect. Leto gets a lot of great emotional scenes, a particularly good example of one is when he goes to visit his estranged father, and every single one of them makes you say, “Give this man an Oscar”. The rest of the cast seems pretty low-key compared to McConaughey and Leto, but they all perform admirably. This is probably the best I’ve seen Jennifer Garner in a while, and she does get a few moments to herself that really work. Steve Zahn is good whenever he’s around, but he’s only in the film sporadically and doesn’t do a whole lot. As said before, I found the antagonists a bit much but Denis O’Hare and Michael O’Neill do well with what they’re given and make these somewhat stereotypical characters seem presentable.
There’s not much to talk about in the technical department other than the make-up, which is fantastic. The way McConaughey and Leto’s characters slowly shift in health throughout the movie is astounding; they truly look like they are decaying right on camera. It certainly helps make the film more convincing and believable.
Dallas Buyers Club isn’t a revolutionary film, but it hits all the right notes to be enjoyable mainly thanks to the wonderful efforts of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. In less deft hands, this could have been a trite drama full of pull-at-your-heartstrings moments that fail to connect. But luckily the film is smarter than that and lets the affliction drive the character rather than the other way round.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10