Here Matthew McConaughey loses 46 lbs for the role. Some may see this as Oscar-baiting. Well, I see it as the guy doing an extraordinary job. And then some. He looks fantastically awful throughout and the film reaps huge benefits from this commitment. It is not simply McConaughey’s film, I should add. Director Jean-Marc Vallée does an exceptional job and the writers Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack deliver a cracking script.
The year is 1985. Electrician, rodeo cowboy and party animal Ron Woodroof is diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. Refusing to accept the diagnosis, Woodroof sets about finding alternatives to survive. Questioning the hospital’s policies, especially their use of AZT - a drug that damages all cell life - he seeks help from a doctor in Mexico. He then buys uncontrolled (and far-more-effective) substances from across the border and distributes them to AIDS patients in the US. Woodroof’s laser focus on drug research combined with his street smarts make him a tough opponent of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). And along the way he is forced to confront his rampant homophobia.
Dallas Buyers Club has a heady atmosphere. The sex and drug scenes involving this epicurean cowboy have a lurid tenseness. It’s refreshing to see hedonistic excess not confined to the Eastern or Western edges of the USA. (A lot of that obviously happens in the middle, too.) Director Jean-Marc Vallée directs with aplomb. He throws everything at this film - it is alternately humorous and horrific - but ties it all together with an evenly-toned work. Woodroof’s arc is redemptive. Suddenly a victim of the ‘gay plague’ he warms to those in a similar morass (namely gay people) and redresses his previously-held bigotry. But it’s not sugar-coated. While supplying incredible help to those with HIV he still retains his inexorable Lonestar Outlaw persona.
It has a wonderful odd-couple pairing at the film’s centre - namely that between the homophobic Woodroof and the transgender Rayon (Jared Leto). As well as plenty of pathos there is much comedy to be found in this double-act. McConaughey is marvellous in the role. His unrelenting swagger in the face of such extreme adversity makes for a great watch. And the film’s rock ‘n roll ethos makes it one of the coolest ‘Issue Movies’ of all time.