Published on February 18, 2014 | by Sophie Smallshaw

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Review: Dallas Buyers Club

★★★★

Poster for Dallas Buyers Club starring Matthew McConnaghey 2014With the Oscars season nearly upon us and the race to the finish line gaining serious momentum, there seems to be one film which has taken everyone by surprise.

Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodruff, a homophobic, drinking, smoking cowboy in 1982, who finds out that he has contracted the fatal HIV virus at a time when the AIDS crisis is spiralling out of control.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée from an original screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, the film took only 25 days to shoot but over a staggering 15 years to be made, because of a lack of financial backing.

Before his diagnosis, Woodruff was a man who lived his life in the fast lane with a thirst for excess, whether that be drugs, gambling or women. Told he has only 30 days to live, Woodruff must turn his life around if he has any chance of survival.

Shunned by his blue–collar drinking buddies, he finds himself desperate for a second chance at living. Woodruff’s desperation takes him on a journey battling pharmaceutical companies in a search for alternative treatments to his deadly virus. This becomes his benchmark; establishing a way in which HIV–positive people across the country can access supplies unavailable to them.

Speaking at the London launch of the film, with ALN present, Matthew McConaughey, who portrays Woodruff, explained his attraction to the originality of the story and his anarchist character: “It was never [meant to be] a super-sentimental story. It’s really a wild wonderful ride that this guy takes us on, dealing with a subject that could have gone sentimental and I just thought it was highly original.”

Dramatic

Jared Leto accompanies McConaughey as Rayon, a transgender AIDS patient who becomes an unlikely ally and business partner to Woodruff. Both actors underwent a dramatic physical transformation, losing serious amounts of weight, with Leto illustrating his commitment to the role by waxing his entire body (eyebrows included).

Transformation aside, it is impossible not to feel drawn to Rayon. What makes Leto’s performance so applaudable is the way in which he immerses himself into the role, becoming almost unrecognisable. This allows us to concentrate on Rayon the character, rather than Leto in a dress. Rayon is witty and funny (in one scene she playfully torments Woodruff by decorating his office with photographs of Marc Bolan), yet devastatingly heartbreaking to watch.

The film is career-defining for both actors. McConaughey reflected on his decision to take on the heavier role: “I’m still in the same book, just a different chapter.”

Without losing its tough-as-cowboy-boots edge, the story is both powerful and sincere, with enough humour to show the determination of Woodruff.

Speaking about his new career direction, he said: “I’m not arrogant enough to boohoo anything I’ve ever done in my career. I wouldn’t be sitting here now if I hadn’t done the films I did.”

Leto, who aside from acting has garnered universal success as the frontman to the rock band 30 Seconds To Mars, agreed that he was happy to allow his career to evolve: “I like what Andy Warhol said, ‘labels are for cans, not for people’.”

He added: “I think it’s more and more common for [people] to do many different things and that’s fun. It’s exciting.”

Fighting

The main cast is rounded off with the addition of Jennifer Garner, who plays the sympathetic, yet conflicted Dr. Eve Saks. Garner fits the role well, but stands in the shadows of McConaughey and Leto, as her character struggles to emotively engage the audience with what she is fighting for. Woodruff comes to count on Saks as he slowly accepts his new life, whilst fighting against his fate.

“He’s essentially the same guy, that same son-of-a-bitch that you meet early. Those traits are what kept him alive for seven more years, ” McConaughey said, explaining Woodruff’s hard-bitten attitude. “He’s a real person. That’s how he was. I was not worried about sympathising with Ron; if he’s a real guy you will empathise with him.”

Without losing its tough-as-cowboy-boots edge, the story is both powerful and sincere, with enough humour to show the determination of Woodruff – and those around him – to not accept themselves as victims of a disease that slowly engulfed them. It is a film that sat quietly amongst the hype of big competitors such as American Hustle and 12 Years A Slave, until award season raised its head.

With both McConaughey and Leto already taking home the accolades at this years Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Critics Choice awards, it seems both are poised as front runners for next month’s Academy Awards. Are they worried about the strong competition they face?

Leto has nothing but praise for rival film The Wolf of Wall Street, which just so happens to feature McConaughey, stating: “He is so good in that movie, isn’t he great in that film? I mean five stars. I just saw it. Holy shit! It’s amazing!”

 

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