Dallas Buyers Club – ★★★ (1/2)

SYNOPSIS: In 1987, Texan electrician Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) is hospitialised after suffering an accident at work. However he is stunned to learn that he is HIV-positive for AIDS and that he only has a month to live. He soon discovers specific drugs that could help him get better and decides to trek across the border to Mexico and bring a supply back with him. But despite warnings from US officials about the drugs being illegal, he vows to help fellow AIDs sufferers by forming the Dallas Buyers Club with additional help coming from transvestite Rayon (Jared Leto).

Nominated alongside several prestige films in this year’s Oscar race, Dallas Buyers Club is a candid and honest depiction about the AIDs epidemic which affected one particular individual named Ron Woodruff.

Jean Marc-Vallee paints an honest picture about Woodruff’s flamboyant lifestyle which is presented extravagantly in the opening fifteen minutes as we see him take part in bull-riding and money-hustling as well as embarking on sexual activities with various women.

But once he gets the dreaded news about his daunting condition, he struggles to accept it especially when his ‘friends’ accuse him of being a closet homosexual, a small element of the film that focuses on sexual discrimination towards those living in the south of the US.

The harsh reality that Woodruff lives in is eventually left behind as he desperately searches for the drugs that could ease his suffering but also realises that he could make a difference to others even when there is a price involved.

Vallee handles the gritty subject matter to meticulous effect as he captures the horrifying predicament that many unfortunate men had to suffer when AIDs became a worldwide ordeal as the film raises questions about whether they were fairly treated by their own government.

The answers to those questions are confined within the admirable script from writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack as they tackle the issue head-on particularly when Ron tussles with the FDA over his determination to help fellow sufferers.

Vallee also deserves merit in the editing department as he and right-hand man Martin Pensa produce crisp editing work to capture the tender moments involving Woodruff such as his reaction to the diagnosis and the close-up shots of him downing the pills.

But the real strength of the film lies in the physically-demanding performances given by its two male stars.

Carrying on his incredible reinvention from doing woeful rom-coms to producing strong work in fascinating projects, Matthew McConaughey takes centre stage with his best on-screen performance as the blunt yet determined Woodruff, a man trying to make a massive difference to others despite his unapologetic feelings about them.

Given that he lost almost fifty pounds to tackle the role, McConaughey pushes himself to the physical limit and embodies this broken individual who refuses to give in to this deadly illness even when we gasp at his very skinny appearance.

Having won some key accolades recently, an Oscar victory would be the icing on the cake for an actor who has bounced back from obscurity and is already reaping the awards with his future work.

Looking even more certain for Oscar glory is character performer Jared Leto as he convinces in his subtle turn as transvestite Rayon.

Completely unrecognisable with his shallow weight and articulate makeup, the dedicated method actor submerges himself into the fictional role of Rayon to great effect and captures his larger-than-life personality that soon becomes torrid to watch as he slowly accepts the prospect of dying.

Jennifer Garner also produces a sympathetic turn as Doctor Eve Saks, a stern woman who struggles to take sides when it comes to her loyalty at work and her concerns for the AIDs suffering patients.

But as is the case with most real-life films, Dallas does tend to be a bit stereotypical towards the institutions depicted on screen especially when portraying the FDA and other medical characters as horrible without a lack of humanity.

It must also be worth pointing out that Woodruff himself doesn’t come across as sympathetic despite his passion and determination to survive.

Though his real-life situation was undoubtedly tragic, his homophobic attitude proves a big flaw and while we can relate to his frustrations about the corporations, we can never really connect with him properly especially when there is hardly any focus on those he helps.

But while it has its flaws, Dallas Buyers Club is a compelling film about one of humanity’s deadliest epidemics and is strengthened further by colossal performances from comeback kings McConaughey and Leto.

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