***THIS REVIEW WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED AT THE HOLLYWOOD NEWS ON SUNDAY 2ND FEBRUARY, HERE***
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée.
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Kevin Rankin, Steve Zahn.
Running Time: 117 minutes.
Synopsis: Hard living redneck Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) finds his morals and beliefs questioned when diagnosed as HIV-positive. Given thirty days to live, he teams up with transvestite, Rayon (Jared Leto), to help find an alternative to new drug on the block, AZT.
1985 Dallas was not the most accepting of places, with early mockery of “faggot” Rock Hudson’s death setting levels of Texan tolerance incredibly low. In the midst of the name-calling is electrician, Ron Woodroof, who, unbeknownst to him, will soon be subjected to the same taunts from those he calls friends. But this rude awakening sets the part-time rodeo rider on an unwavering path from homophobic bigot to tireless, accepting campaigner.
Woodroof’s debauched, drug-heavy antics lead to the odd blackout or two, but it’s only after an accident at work that the true reason behind them is revealed. After a spectacular outburst of denial, Ron buries his head in library book research, but cocaine-fuelled nights and trips to the strip club are still very much on the cards. Soon realising the American health service offers little more than AZT drug trials that may or may not see him beyond the projected thirty days, Ron begins smuggling untested cocktails of drugs for his physical – and financial – gain.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB could have easily got bogged down in medicinal terms, but chooses to let the audience learn along with Ron as opposed to saturating its script with specifics. Understandably there are needles and blood galore, but Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s screenplay is surprisingly funnier than expected, rising above paint by numbers biopic fare for the most part due to McConaughey and Leto’s impeccable performances.
With the Dallas heat dripping from the screen, the intensity is turned up to eleven as the pair give career-best turns as an unlikely duo determined to take on the world. Initially repulsed by fellow AZT guinea pig Rayon (a fictional character based on a combination of characters from Ron’s life), the social butterfly is Woodroof’s key to helping more AIDS sufferers – and his own pocket. All cheekbones and rouge (a present day Rayon would make an impressive Zooey Deschanel impersonator), she is the perfect aide to Ron. And, though Jennifer Garner’s equally fictional Dr. Eve Saks feels shoehorned in for the sake of a woman on the billing, Leto has undoubtedly created one of the most infectious and misunderstood characters of all time.
Working flawlessly alongside his scene stealing “Tinkerbell” and carrying the film on his emaciated shoulders, McConaughey appears ten years older as he dissolves into Woodroof. Though initially detestable, Ron’s mental and political frustrations are adeptly handled by McConaughey, though refrain from sympathetic territory. There may be a glaring sacrificial element running through their working relationship, but a lot of fun is to be had in their constant bickering and Ron’s reluctance to partake in Rayon’s unknown world.
With the Buyers Club serving as his very own Project Mayhem, Ron’s ability to stay above the law by handing out unapproved drugs only ever had a limited lifespan. However, the film’s insistence to flag passing time is distracting and often unnecessary, leading to its inherently important finale delivered as a rushed afterthought.
The stigma attached to HIV and AIDS can be perfectly summed up in a short scene that sees Rayon visit a member of her family, and, though it may at times struggle to keep up with its dynamite leads, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB’s ability to portray such shocking apathy about the illness at its core is to be loudly applauded.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is released in UK cinemas on Friday 7thFebruary, 2014.