The Watchers

The Watchers

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Review: Dallas Buyers Club (UK Cert 15)

There was once a time when there'd have been a better chance of hell freezing over than seeing the words 'Matthew McConaughey' and 'Oscar nominee' in the same sentence. Performances in films like How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Failure To Launch, Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past and Sahara certainly didn't trouble the Academy. However, over the past three years, McConaughey has gone from dimwatt romantic lead to Serious Actor, giving strong performances in The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe, Magic Mike, and Mud, culminating with a Golden Globe win and Oscar nomination for Dallas Buyers Club.

Set in the 1980s, Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas man diagnosed with HIV and given thirty days to live by his doctors. Declaring that there's nothing that could kill him in that time, Woodroof looks for a way to prolong his life and finds drugs and treatments in Mexico which could help - the only problem is, they're not approved by the FDA and therefore cannot be sold legally in the US. But by using a loophole that allows personal use only, Woodroof starts to import the drugs and sets up the titular buyers club- where people pay a fee to join a club but then receive the drugs 'for free'. However, it's not long before the FDA come knocking... It's an intense and powerful drama with a refreshing lack of schmaltzy, saccharine sentiment underpinned by three bravura performances.

McConaughey's central performance as Woodroof is exceptional and he is truly deserving of all the plaudits that have come his way. Gaunt and hollow-eyed, McConaughey lost nearly three stone to show the character's physical deterioration (and that physical change was still evident when he filmed The Wolf Of Wall Street). Woodroof is an unlikely hero- a racist, homophobic redneck- but such is the intensity of McConaughey's performance, you can't help but root for the bloke (even if you don't like him all that much). The scene which reveals how he contracted HIV is nicely underplayed and quite elliptical, like much in the film. It's a truly remarkable and committed performance.

No less committed in his role is Jared Leto as Rayon, a transgender woman who Woodroof meets at the hospital and who helps out when Woodroof begins the buyers club. Their relationship is initially spiky but then falls into a kind of respect. This is his first film role in nearly five years, and Leto is just brilliant, a fragile yet ferocious performance, equally deserving of his awards plaudits. The other strong performance is from Jennifer Garner who plays Dr. Eve Saks, who helps to treat Woodroof in his initial diagnosis. There's a great spark between Garner and McConaughey but the film neatly eschews a romantic storyline for something less cliched and much more emotionally affecting. Other great performances come from Griffin Dunne as Dr. Vass, Woodroof's contact in Mexico, Denis O'Hare as Eve's boss Dr. Sevard and Michael O'Neill as FDA officer Richard Barkley.

The film was shot in 25 days for around $5 million and was repeatedly turned down by Hollywood studios because of the subject matter. This is an important story and deserves to be told (although, like most films, there has been some dramatic license used). Much like other heavyweight dramas out at the moment, this is a film to admire if not exactly enjoy but is worth seeing for the tremendous central performances.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5


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