Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
While this is a superbly crafted piece of cinema, central to this film are two sensational performances. McConaughey gives a career-defining performance as Woodruff, while Jared Leto steals every scene in a supporting performance that glows from the screen. Come Oscar night on March 2nd, both McConaughey and Leto will walk away with statuettes for these roles.
McConaughey’s Ron Woodruff is a striking character, whose blinkered world of hedonism is torn apart by the realisation of his own mortality. He is forced to turn his back on everything that has made him happy before (alcohol, cocaine and women) and live a life of sobriety, focused on his health. At times we see how difficult this is for him, yearning for the past life he enjoyed so much, but the film follows his journey from being someone on a path of self-destruction to becoming a person doggedly resolute that he will survive. It’s also refreshing to see that, while he is doing all he can to help his own disease, he is incredibly human in his recognising the opportunity to exploit a niche market; he sees a way to make money and takes it. The Dallas Buyers Club is a business venture for Woodruff, not a charity. But as time goes on, as the injustices mount up against him from the pharmaceutical companies determined to stop him helping people, his business-front begins to chip away to reveal a moral centre behind his macho façade. And the same goes toward his homophobia; on diagnosis, Woodruff is incensed that anyone could believe him a homosexual, but as he becomes more and more involved with a dying community, he sees the person behind the abusive labels. This gradual journey toward compassion and empathy that McConaughey leads us through is amazing to watch and as moving as the depiction of the disease itself.
Behind these two amazing roles, it’s easy to overlook Jennifer Garner too. While her role is far more restrained, her emotions staid from her life in medicine, you can see the courage of her convictions burning through her stoicism. It’s a great role for Garner, proving how versatile and likeable she can be. Visually, the film film packs a few evocative punches, with some fast and juxtaposed editing, while some of its darker moments rely upon some clever sound editing, with music used greatly with the diagetic sound pulled out. Overall though, this is a film about its performances.
Of this year’s Best Picture lineup, in which Dallas Buyers Club features, it’s probably at the bottom of the pile, but it’s still a fantastic watch. Its story is great, its characters entertaining, even if it drags a little toward the end, but it’s also a very informative film about a side to the AIDS crisis that I knew very little about before. It hints toward issues that Hollywood haven’t spoken about, that have only made it to the screen before via the documentary How To Survive A Plague. Just as it was about time someone made a film about slavery this year in 12 Years A Slave, it was about time someone made a good film about the AIDS crisis. It’s a bit disappointing to learn that both Leto’s and Garner’s characters are fictional, which leads to my minor gripe that a film essentially about the Gay Community and the issues facing it didn’t focus around a gay central character… But, regardless, the story it’s based upon is still fascinating and the film as a whole is great.