Sunday, 2 March 2014

Film Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club is a Best Picture-nominated drama starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner. It's an affecting, memorable and striking film that reaffirms McConaughey's renaissance into one of the best actors in the business today. 

Set in Dallas, Texas in 1985, McConaughey plays Ron Woodruff, a rodeo cowboy who contracts HIV/AIDS during the peak of the hysteria surrounding the disease. Given only 30 days to live, he spirals into a deep drink and drugs habit that worsens his condition.

Shunned by his friends, Ron is a social outcast as those around him jump to conclusions and brand him a 'faggot'.

Together with his new business partner, a transvestite by the name of Rayon (Jared Leto), Ron decides to take matters into his own hands. Unable to use medicines unapproved by the FDA to combat his condition, Ron and Rayon start moving drugs across the Mexican border and selling them to other sufferers, forming the Dallas Buyers Club.

The first thing that strikes you about Dallas Buyers Club is the acting talent; immensely poignant and engrossing, the two lead performances by McConaughey and Leto are sublime. Both are defining roles in their careers; for McConaughey, he's as good as he's ever been here. The Stetson, the aviators and the blue cowboy jeans form something of an iconic image for his career.

From The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike, Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street, this all-encompassing performance is the icing on the cake in an amazing few years for the former rom-com mainstay. Striking weight-loss aside (because there is more to his performance than that), McConaughey brings a gritty determination to the role that brings to life the stark moral dilemma of the time. Meanwhile, Leto is utterly convincing in his role, as he delves into the minute details of the character, and all her idiosyncrasies, from start to finish. Together, the two actors really elevate this film to a new level.

Despite the subject matter being fairly morbid, I was surprised at how funny the film was at times. In Leto, the film finds its funny bone, with the contrast between Ron's often gruff cowboy and Rayon's feminine charms being a fun dynamic. It's played for laughs at times, but the movie doesn't forget that these two share a much more affecting trait that binds them together. It's an odd coupling, but one that works really well.

Also, the scenes where Ron adopts different guises to fool border patrol officers is great fun, injecting a welcome sense of levity to the ticking time-bomb that is his disease. On the flipside, there are some powerful, emotionally-wrought moments where director Jean-Marc Vallee doesn't shy away from the hard-hitting effects that HIV/AIDS can have both physically, and emotionally. It's an unsettling sight to see McConaughey in such a frail condition, but I found that there was a lot more to be discussed after the film than simply how skinny he was.

Jennifer Garner is also great as an ally of Woodruff's within the Dallas hospital. I felt that, like the lead duo, her arc was crafted in a really satisfying way. Her character came to mean more as the movie went on, and we even see the twinkling of a romance with her character before the end of the film. It doesn't come to define the film, thank God, but it was a nice element added into the story.

The plot is one that winds between triumph and defeat several times for Woodruff. It's a simple, well-told and captivating narrative of survival, defiance and dignity. It isn't convoluted or unconventional, either, with Woodruff's arc handled in a way that is satisfying and rewarding for the audience.

Starting in a despicable state, riddled with drugs, drink and positively reeking of trash, Woodruff builds himself up to respectable and admirable survivor by the films end. This transformation can equal parts be credited to the well-written script and Jean-Marc Vallee's excellent direction. I liked how the film plotted out his character development without turning him into an absolute saint; it makes a point to show how life isn't as clean-cut as that.

The Verdict: 9/10

Driven by two stellar central performances, Dallas Buyers Club tackles a sensitive topic in an uplifting way through a tale of unlikely and determined heroism. McConaughey and Leto deserve all the plaudits they get, as their performances elevate the film from conventional zero-to-hero fare to moving, character-driven drama. Fantastic.


  1. Nice review. Definitely a good movie, and both McConaughey and Leto were great! :)

    1. They really were; fully deserving of their Oscars. Glad I managed to catch the film before the awards last night haha.



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