Dallas Buyers Club – An award-winning turn from Matthew McConaughey as a man with a plan. But what about the rest of the film?

Matthew McConaughey really has turned his career around over the past few years. From sappy rom-coms and action flicks he now favours dramas that pack a punch and that have a hefty and impressive role for him too. Not that he didn’t have these sorts of projects under his belt before, but never any that would raise him to the heights he finds himself at now. After dazzling in Killer Joe (2011), Mud (2012) and shorter roles in Magic Mike (2012) and most recently in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), McConaughey now sets alight the screen in another role that firmly cements him as one of the greatest actors around at the moment, this time playing a real life character in Dallas Buyers Club (2013). Set in 1985 we meet Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a man who loves his drink, gambling and women, sometimes all at once. However when he suddenly collapses one day Ron is given the distressing news that he has the AIDS virus. Going through denial, depression and acceptance all in the space of a week, Ron then becomes determined that he will survive, despite doctors having told him that he only has 30 days left to live. When Ron seeks medication to treat the virus and discovers how hard it is to find it, he turns over a new leaf and decides to help fellow AIDS sufferers get the right kind of treatment in a true, heartwarming story about one man who wanted to make a difference.

At this year’s Academy Awards Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in Dallas Buyers Club. He also won a Golden Globe for his performance. And throughout watching Dallas Buyers Club it is indeed easy to see why he was one of the award favourites. McConaughey went through a vast physical transformation to play this real life AIDS victim, shedding over 3 stone to play the part. Yet losing weight isn’t everything to make a role work. That is why it is a joy to see just how much of a presence McConaughey is onscreen, regardless of the weight change. As Ron he is exceptional, portraying this dubious yet brilliant character with ease – a bitter and homophobic man (even when he does begin his mission to help those with AIDS), yet someone who is beyond brave for what he did and endlessly kind nonetheless. McConaughey uses these two sides to the man to his advantage, bringing gravitas to the role by making him an uncertain hero who is all the more real for his faults.

Matching McConaughey in terms of performance is a nearly unrecognisable Jared Leto as Rayon, a transgender woman who is also HIV-positive. Leto is perfect as Rayon (and had his own impressive weight loss to go through to play the role) – effeminate yet strong in her own way, joking all the time even as her health is deteriorating. Leto also makes Rayon a completely likeable soul, even when it is revealed she is a drug addict. It might even be argued that it is easier to identify with Rayon as she is the more fun and amiable presence, the ying to Ron’s yang as it were. And Leto and McConaughey do indeed light up the screen whenever they are in a scene together too, a winning team-up that truly works as they both establish a great relationship between these two brilliant characters who couldn’t be more different.

While the performances are great and hard to ignore in a film like this (especially when the two leads won Oscars for their roles), what about the story, the heart of the film? Well, this is where Dallas Buyers Club is a huge disappointment for me. The plot is interesting and unusual and there is an obvious draw to watching something about a real life man who fought for change. Yet the story (written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack) lacks spark to truly make it captivating. Around the halfway point after Rayon has been introduced and his business relationship set out with Ron, interest begins to dip in the narrative and tedium sets in. It becomes another substandard drama that plods along and, dare I say it, becomes very ‘daytime TV movie’. Therefore throughout it very much feels like a film in which the performances rule over everything. This isn’t always a bad thing when the story matches the roles on show, but in Dallas Buyers Club it doesn’t and other elements suffer because of this. One thing I will say about the story though is that it is unusually different because it doesn’t include an over-sentimental romance plot that films like this tend to have. When (a woefully miscast) Jennifer Garner is introduced it does seem the film will head down this route, but it doesn’t, making a thankful change. However this is one of the only few points about the boring, imperfect plot that I can mention in a positive light.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée ably directs Dallas Buyers Club throughout, successfully putting you in Ron’s frame of mind, even though he is such an ambiguous character. Yet when it comes down to it the dull and average plot means that this is a film sadly focused on McConaughey and Leto’s roles, both of them practically carrying the film along and being the only things that really maintain your interest. Oscar worthy? Yes – performance wise. But everything else about Dallas Buyers Club? – severely lacking. A major disappointment when this is a film about a real life character and that has such a powerful message. Maybe in better hands and with more time spent on building the plot, this would have been much more intriguing and distinctive. Instead we have this. A huge shame.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on March 21, 2014.

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