Dallas Buyers Club - Cinema Review


Hollywood loves several things but there are few things higher on the list of things Hollywood loves than, in no particular order; a transformation, a comeback and its own collection of elite 'stars'. On the rare occasions that Hollywood has borne witness to the Holy Trinity of a comeback by one of its own, in a role which requires a transformation, mind-blowing aneurysms hit a height not seen since Monroe stood on top of that grate and some bright spark said 'that'd make a good photo'.

Perhaps the only thing that saved the industry from mass spontaneous combustion when they saw Dallas Buyers Club was the fact that Matthew McConaughey's comeback from high-earning but low-loved, normally low-quality bargain bin fodder, has now been going for quite some time. The Lincoln Lawyer, perhaps the film that started McConaughey's mid-life renaissance, is nearly three years old and in between that and Jean-Marc Vallée's film there's been a string of films - Killer Joe, The Paperboy, Mud, Magic Mike - with something interesting about them, if not always something successful. McConaughey, a bona fide star, is back, doing something interesting, here in a role that sees him slimmed down to gaunt levels. Taking just the face value stuff, there's little here not to like.

The substance is significant too but, perhaps, here's where the McConaughey mythos starts to detract somewhat from Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack's screenplay. Vallée gets sucked in to the personal story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), AIDS victim turned drug dealer-cum-activist, who rejects the system's peddled medicines in favour of healthy living, supplements and other semi-legal additives. There's no doubt that Woodroof's personal story is compelling, but somewhere in Vallée's film, amongst the scenes of corporate man Denis O'Hare's dealing with medical reps and Jennifer Garner's wannabe medical rebel, you get the feeling there was a bigger picture story about the medical world's lack of ability/willingness/non-monetary drive to solve the AIDS crisis in 1980s USA. There are parts of that story here but the throwaway references to other buyer's clubs belie a much bigger picture, which Vallée eschews to focus on Woodroof.

That focus is given depth and breadth by the inclusion of side characters such as Garner's, who eventually gets left to shoulder the burden of representing the medical world's dilemmas and Jared Leto's Rayon, who is something much more interesting entirely, mainly thanks to Leto. The mirror image of Woodroof, Rayon has the same entrepreneurial spirit which means he isn't quite a bland, lily white, rights fighter. Instead, like Woodroof, Rayon has layers somewhere between selfish, self-destructive and borderline heroic. Leto, who only seems to come out of self-imposed acting exile for roles that are semi-likely to win him something, nails it.

McConaughey meanwhile, in a film mainly worth seeing for the two lead performances - perfect where tone and focus waver - has been better in films serious of topic that aren't weighed down by carrying too many aims (awards, morals, 'issues', Drama, physical transformation). His rejuvenation may be partially built of films such as this, but the real keystones of his now borderline brilliant career will be the tales that allow him to be great without tempting a grandstand. For this year's best, see: Mud.




Dallas Buyers Club is released in UK cinemas on 7th February 2014.


By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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