Written by Ben Curtis
Since I saw the trailer for “Dallas Buyers Club”, I was intrigued based on the concept alone. I am drawn to drama and a man defying the practical death sentence of HIV is surely as good as it gets.
Oh, and it’s inspired by a true story, too.
In ten seconds the trailer captures the outrageous lifestyle of our main character, Ron Woodroof, played by Matthew McConaughey. The words “COWBOY, GAMBLER, HELLRAISER” flash up dramatically, interspersed with clips of Woodroof’s passions which include rodeo, guns, women and the great American dollar.
Woodroof, a bona fide all-American hustler, finds himself crossing the border into Mexico to find drugs that will help him survive despite doctors assuring him that he only has a month to live.
Stumbling across more effective, but unapproved medicines, Woodroof sees an opportunity to sell the drugs by exploiting a clever loophole. Here the spirit of the American Dream is prominent, the only laws to consider being those of supply and demand.
The beauty of Dallas Buyers Club is in its balance of simplicity and the raising of delicate questions of morality, as well as its continual yet natural shift between comedic and tragic elements.
On one side this film is a period drama set in 1985 about a homophobic electrician and rodeo enthusiast with a big personality, who ends up with HIV and consequently battles for his survival.
In my opinion, the other side is far more interesting. The film challenges homophobic views, the effectiveness and humanity of modern medicine and the cold-hearted game of politics played by big pharmaceutical companies.
As if that wasn’t enough, it still finds time to lightly but firmly preach the similarities of us all, in particular the willing and want to live – or not just roll over and die.
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Matthew McConaughey’s physical transformation for his role as Ron Woodroof and I can’t ignore that. He has clearly lost a staggering amount of weight, showing Christian Bale level of dedication.
However, it’s his ability to live the role that should be the focus. Transcending his physicality you’ll witness McConaughey’s ability to make this story very, upsettingly real. Simply put, he nails the contrast of badass cowboy spirit and sheer desperation.
It all sounds lovely, except Woodroof is homophobic, misogynistic and led by greed. Like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, the audience is given a clearly anti-heroic character to eventually learn to love.
Jared Leto’s role as transgender AIDS patient Rayon also cannot be ignored and it’s really no surprise that both lead actors have received Oscar nominations.
Jennifer Garner’s role as Dr. Eve is less impressive, but still holds up. She plays a straight-edged doctor who is ultimately moved by Woodroof’s tenacity and spirit.
Personally I found the running time of the film, which was just under two hours, a little too long but I can’t think of any scene that didn’t add to the narrative.
Every moment of the film interested me even when it didn’t thrill. As a viewer you understand that Ron Woodroof’s life is always in danger but because this film deals with realism so well it subtlety dismisses that fact, just as Ron avoids feeling sorry for himself too much (kind of).
This isn’t an action film, but it’s certainly about a man of action. Whether you want to or not, you will end up on Ron’s side because whether he wanted to or not, Ron became a crusader for the people.
Essentially, a lot of the meaning and depth of this film could be missed in a casual viewing but I feel that it would be hard to leave the cinema without thinking “I just saw a great film”.
Overall I highly enjoyed this film. While it didn’t necessarily match my initial expectations, I admit that I hadn’t fully formed them when I sat down to watch it.
I’d certainly recommend entering the cinema with an open mind as this film covers a lot of topics that don’t seem to be covered enough. The film doesn’t pander any particular message too hard, but does so just enough to leave you with a lasting impression.
Ron Woodroof is a fantastic character, a traditional and somewhat distasteful underdog type who seems to lose so much in his fight with HIV. Despite this, he ends up showing us all how to not only survive but thrive under life-and-death circumstances.
Who knows what could be achieved if we could all channel such willingness to live into our lives, without the need for tragedy.
Either way, the hugely positive response to Dallas Buyers Club suggests that popular cinema can still be highly sensitive and touch on issues that don’t generally make it into our day-to-day lives.