Dallas Buyers Club
February 7th 2014
Jean Marc Vallee
MM, Leto, Garner
23rd January 2014
If you are a regular visitor to Broken Shark then you’ll know that we are fans of Matthew McConaughey. The new and improved Matthew McConaughey that is, not the one that starred in Fool’s Gold and Failure to Launch (although we are extremely fond of the fact he got arrested for playing the bongos naked in this period). So. No, not that Matthew McConaughey but the one from Magic Mike, Mud, Killer Joe and who stole the show from Leo himself in Wolf of Wall Street. That one. Now he strikes again as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club, the true story of a man forced to look long and hard at himself and his prejudices in 80’s America.
Its 1985 and deep down in Texas, Ron Woodroof is a man’s man. Electrician Woodroof likes to live his life in a prurient and excessive manner - even for the 80’s. Drugs, threesomes, heavy drinking, more drugs, prostitutes…..certainly not thinking about tomorrow. We first lay eyes on Woodroof at that manliest of Southern pursuits, the rodeo, where he rips off a load of cowboys betting on the bull ride and subsequently has to run for his life. Woodroof is childlike, both charming, infuriating and he’s doing whatever the hell he wants, hang the consequences. He also happens to be a bigoted red neck.
A work accident gets Woodroof taken to hospital where he gets told by doctors (sensitively wearing sars masks) that he has AIDS. Woodroof is immediately appalled, ‘this is a faggots disease, he ain't no Rock Hudson’ and off he storms out of hospital. Woodroof ignores the diagnosis and carries on despite a hacking cough and shocking weight loss. Then we see the realisation start to seep through that thick headed skull of his as he reads up on his criminally misunderstood illness.
Through flashbacks we see sometimes the sex was with girls with track marks on their arms and Woodroof certainly wasn’t checking their credentials before getting to know them on the most carnal of levels. Trying to go to support groups further reinforces his distaste for ‘gays’ but as he himself feels the chill wind of prejudice and anger at the way the disease is treated by doctors he takes matters, the FDA and Big Pharma companies into his own hands and the Dallas Buyers Club is created. Woodruff, through a even mix of pig-headed stubbornness, strength of character, stupidity and bravery unwittingly became a pioneer for alternative treatment and kept himself alive far longer than any doctor had predicted.
So to Matthew McConaughey. This is a perfect role for him and much has been made of the physical transformation that whittled him down to AIDS like proportions. It is shocking and extremely effective but this is only one aspect of why he really makes this role so powerful. Woodroof has to remain likeable even when despicable, homophobic words fly out of his mouth; even when he banging two skanky prostitutes and doing huge lines of blow off the table and then we need to root for him as he emerges from the cocoon as a hero. Only an actor with considerable charm could pull of all these conflicting sides and McConaughey is certainly that. That Oscar nod is well deserved.
McConaughey is well supported in this firstly by the wonderful Jared Leto as cross-dressing Rayon who becomes Ron’s business partner in the Dallas Buyers Club because of his access to the gay community. Leto is also terrifyingly skinny but still has those china doll delicate features that make him the prettiest girl in the room regardless. Again the physical transformation is of course shocking and deserves praise but the performance itself even more so. Rayon is a broken bird who is the first person to get through Ron’s dumb tough exterior and make him see that underneath the women’s clothes and make up is a human being, and one he could just possibly have something to connect with. Theirs is simply a beautiful and heart-breaking relationship that I could have watched for hours. They both fully deserve every accolade and award that comes their way. Jennifer Garner has finally sorted out childcare at Garner/Affleck mansions and is pitch perfect as Dr Eve who also starts to question the effectiveness of the trial drugs. Also deserving of praise are the ever wonderful Steve Zahn and Griffin Dunne, Dallas and Denis O' Hare.
It’s a brave and interesting movie Jean Marc Vallee has created. It is not overly schmaltzy and certainly didn’t feel too long. It’s quite a feat to portray such a story without too much cliché or sentimentality. There are interesting and artistic shots to stop and think about - Woodroof in a room full of butterflies being used for medical research is strange and beautiful and Vallee constantly pulls the viewer back to animalistic images. A close-up of the eye of the bull who constantly defeats the cowboys bookends the film; a scene of Woodroof astride the bull one last time is dreamlike and ethereal. Dallas Buyers Club is a film of both poetic and veracious parts that takes huge risks at times but pulls them off with great aplomb.
Check out the trailer here.