Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, Griffin Dunne
Running time: 117mins
The lowdown: Matthew McConaughey arguably completes his McConaughaissance with Dallas Buyers Club. As Ron Woodroof, the real life hard living, homophobic blue collar guy diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and subsequently challenged pharmaceutical laws, the actor electrifies. A uniformly excellent cast includes Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner in a film that could be an Erin Brockovich clone, but is elevated by an unsentimental but compassionate approach to the difficult material.
The full verdict: R.I.P Matthew McConaughey, star of such disposable bellybutton fluff as How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days, Failure To Launch, Fool’s Gold, etc, etc. The comeback begun in 2011 with Killer Joe is not going away.
Mud, Magic Mike, Dallas Buyers Club and The Wolf of Wall Street is one hell of a two year run and next up is the no-I-didn’t-understand-the-teaser-but-I’m-excited-anyway Christopher Nolan sci-fi Interstellar.
Dallas Buyers Club taps into the best of McConaughey’s talents: the brooding menace, the effortless charm and fiery passion. Ron Woodroof may run the Oscar friendly character arc of dislikeable to inspirational via terminal illness, but is a tough sell as a movie lead.
Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and Woody Harrelson all tried to realise the project over the past twenty years and McConaughey himself had to secure financing for a seat-of-the-pants 25 day shoot.
Texas, mid-1980s. Much to the annoyance of Ron, Rock Hudson is revealed as gay and dead of AIDS, “wasting all that Hollywood pussy”. But Woodroof, a functioning alcoholic n’ cokehead electrician, rodeo enthusiast and ladykiller, has also contracted HIV.
Rejected by friends and given 30 days to live, Woodroof reveals an entrepreneurial knack for procuring legal drugs from crooked hospital staff and then unapproved but more effective treatments from Mexico, Japan, the Middle East and elsewhere as he refuses to lay down and die.
The whiff of money leads him to form the Dallas Buyers Club, exploiting a loophole allowing him to give the drugs away free as a perk of the hefty monthly membership.
All while the Food and Drug Administration (heavily influenced by the pharmaceutical giants it is implied) battle to shut him down.
A film about living, not dying, Dallas Buyers Club is possessed of an energy that comes from great material brought to life by hungry talents fired by guerilla filmmaking tactics.
Vallee directs with handheld urgency that captures Woodroof’s constant fight with time and his illness, ruthless editing slicing away any mawkish heartstring tugging.
McConaughey does a full on Christian Bale, shedding 50lbs and shrinking into a haunted, gaunt shadow of his regular idol self. And while the Damascus-like conversion from arsehole to (tarnished) angel is typical movie stuff, Woodroof’s grifting, crafty methods and charm keep his crusade compelling.
Also impressive is Jared Leto, back after a half decade big screen hiatus as the transsexual Rayon. Similarly AIDS afflicted but with an indomitable spirit Rayon provides Ron with customers and a flamboyant counterpoint to his homophobia.
Jennifer Garner is memorable as a doctor sympathetic to Ron’s battles, and Steve Zahn and Griffin Dunne fill small by vital roles as a cop buddy and an exiled doctor.
Up there with Midnight Cowboy in its portrayal of society’s marginalised, Dallas Buyers Club is a triumph for all involved.