Film Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Monday 29 December 2014 by

Dallas Buyers Club, Film, Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto

One of the biggest hits of 2013/14 was Dallas Buyers Club, the based-on-life story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s.

I was born towards the end of what is deemed the AIDS Crisis, so I have little concept of the depth of the problem, and the panic it created. But in the early and mid-1980s, HIV/AIDS reached pandemic proportions, killing over 90% of sufferers, with no cure or preventative measures in sight. And there was so little known about the causes, and sometimes symptoms, that it made it hard to fight. With misguided rumours, fed by the panic, there was also a lot of prejudice and misconception that caused sufferers to endure much more than just the disease. Which meant there was a large part of this film that simply shocked me due to the ignorance and prejudice that came with getting AIDS, something that I had previously had no notion of.

Matthew McConaughey has (rightly) been lauded for his performance in this film; the most startling part of his performance was never his dramatic weightloss, but his portrayal of the layered depths of grief and determination that comes with a terminal illness. But I’ll be honest, the most underrated performance of the lot has to have come from Jared Leto as the incredible Rayon. From the moment he sashayed on screen, he had my heart in a way that McConaughey never did. Pure class!

Woodroof, electrician, scammer and rodeo fanatic, gets diagnosed as HIV Positive and is given 30 days to live. But with the trials of a new drug taking too long (and proving not as successful as believed), he has to take matters in to his own hands to try to survive the disease. It isn’t long until Woodroof is working around the system in order to give the drugs to other HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Like many biopics, they hang on the success of the star’s ability to cross a range of emotions. McConaughey’s portrayal of a frightened, angry, often ignorant electrician who has been handed a death sentence  is masterful to say the least, but there were quirks of the film that made it feel a little Ocean’s Eleven at times, as he dupes and sidesteps authority. But for the most it feels like it does justice to its subject, never veering too far from the path for dramatic or comic purposes.

In many ways, it’s a heartwarming tale; Woodroof’s thawing of character and Robin Hood-style antics as he tries to get the right drugs, could be argued to be a formula for a feel-good flick. But it is the nub of the film, the point of the story, that never lets it feel all that good: HIV/AIDS. Woodroof died of the disease seven years after he was first given 30 days to live. His Buyers Club (the name for the clubs that provided alternative medicines) gave him, and many others, extra time. But ultimately it was a losing battle, and the film never shies away from that fact.

It is not easy watching. Despite the amazing performances, brilliant soundtrack, and stellar cinematography, this is ultimately a story of loss. You walk away from the film feeling emotionally drained and borderline heartbroken. As biopics go, this is one of the best I’ve seen. But be prepared for tears.

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