MOVIE REVIEW: Dallas Buyers Club

Movies & Theatre

Dallas Buyers Club
DIRECTOR: Jean-Marc Valleé
CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
RATING: ****


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This image released by Focus Features shows Jared Leto as Rayon in a scene from "Dallas Buyers Club." Leto was nominated for a Golden Globe for best supporting actor in a motion picture for his role in the film on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013.  The 71st annual Golden Globes will air on Sunday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Focus Features)AMF_7277 (341 of 376).NEF

Much has been made of Matthew McConaughey’s dramatic weight loss (he shed 18kg) for his role as unwitting Aids activist, Ronald Woodroof.

And in a town where pretty people transforming themselves into Simple Sallys or Average Joes is tantamount to an Oscar nod (the actual quality of their performance not necessarily withstanding), you’d be forgiven for assuming that alone is the reason for McConaughey’s inclusion on the nomination list for this year’s awards.

But audiences who may have missed his remarkable turns in the Magic Mike and Mud movies, or for whom the name Matthew M still conjures images of a buff-bodied, beach-jogging, lady-loving rom-com hippie, Dallas Buyers Club (DBC) will shake you out of your reverie and prove what those of us who have followed his early career have long since known: The Man. Can. Act.

Inspired by a seemingly implausible Gonzo journalism-style article that appeared in a 1992 edition of The Dallas Morning News, the film details the real-life story of Woodroof, who was diagnosed with Aids in 1985 and given 30 days to live.

In an era when very little was known about the disease and it was still regarded as a distinctly “homosexual affliction”, Ron, a heterosexual cocaine-addicted redneck rodeo cowboy-cum-electrician with a penchant for prostitutes (the apparent source of his infection, as he later learns), defies his prognosis and resolutely sets out to seek, if not a cure, at least a sustainable means of staving off its fatal effects.

The film leads us on a journey of many pathways, including how Woodroof’s status sees him instantly ousted from his community and shunned by his friends (who, in all their ignorance, fear he may indeed be “a fag” and that they, too, will contract the disease simply by association).

At the crux of it, though, it’s a classic Robin Hood-like tale of an accidental anti-hero who defies the US government (in the form of Food and Drug Administration, FDA), as well as the money-grubbing pharmaceutical giants and their faux AZT trials, by soliciting unapproved, illegal – but effective – drug cocktails from across the border (Mexico, where else?) to sell to HIV/Aids sufferers in the US.

It’s during the course of his battles (literal and figurative) that Ron encounters Rayon (Leto – who is virtually unrecognisable in this magnificent performance), a trans-sexual who not only inadvertently becomes his accomplice of sorts, but, more importantly, forces Ron to look beyond his own prejudices.

That Woodroof was himself blatantly homophobic is what makes his eventual determination to help ease the suffering of those – yes, mostly gay at that stage – in the same situation all the more poignant.

While the subject matter may be one which, two decades on, we are now familiar with, Valleé manages to offer authentic insight, minus the moralistic preaching.

If you liked Philadelphia or Erin Brockovich this film should be to your taste.

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