Film review

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey's career transformation continues apace...

Among last week's cinema releases was Out Of The Furnace, a blue collar crime drama with echoes of The Deer Hunter set in a dilapidated Rust Belt community in Pennsylvania. It featured among its cast some of contemporary cinemas most accomplished mumblers, each making full use of their well-honed Method skills to out-mumble one another: Christian Bale, Casey Affleck, Forrest Whitaker, Sam Shephard and Willem Dafoe among them. Would that Matthew McConaughey had starred in Out Of The Furnace.

As it goes, I can’t think of any film that wouldn’t in some way be improved by the presence of McConaughey on his current form. The recent work – The Lincoln Lawyer, Killer Joe, Bernie, Mud, Magic Mike, the astonishing, 10-minute monologue about the benefits of masturbation and cocaine in The Wolf Of Wall Street – has found the actor escape the rom-com circuit to find himself in the welcome position where he is winning awards for serious dramatic work. Indeed, he is even nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club, which is certainly a performance worthy of one of the greats of the New Hollywood elite.

He plays Ronald Woodroof, a real-life Texas rodeo hot shot and avid womanizer who tested H.I.V.-positive in 1985. Thinking back a decade to McConaughey in the pomp of his rom-com phase – in movies like How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days – it’s astonishing to see the transformation here. Gone is the gleaming torso, the easy-going smile and button-bright eyes. McConaughey shed 40 pounds for the part and accordingly his Woodroof is rendered as a dark, spindly skeleton. The film follows Woodroof’s simultaneous attempts to overcome the stigma of his illness – no easy task in mid-Eighties Texas – and also bring non-approved treatments to patients who have otherwise been excluded. It is a David and Goliath story of sorts, as Woodroof takes on the pharmaceutical industry and the authorities; but it is also concerned with Woodroof’s transformation from good ol’ homophobe to a more compassionate and understanding human being.

It is the credit of director Jean-Marc Vallée – and the scriptwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack – that at no point does Dallas Buyers Club drift into the saccharine. Vallée’s use of natural light and the film’s milieu – run down bars and trailer parks – recall Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Of course, this is very much McConaughey’s film – and deservedly so – but credit is also due to Jared Leto as a fellow AIDS patient and Jennifer Garner as the doctor who takes Woodroof’s side against the establishment.
Michael Bonner

Follow me on Twitter @MichaelBonner.

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