I’ve never been a fan of Matthew ‘I can’t wait to get my kit off in front of the cameras’ McConaughey but since I saw him in Mud last year, I’ve been looking forward to finding out if he really can act or if Mud was just a fluke. Do you know what? I think he actually, really can act.
So by now you’ll probably know all about DBC even if you haven’t seen it yet. McConaughey and Jared Leto both won Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards for best actor/supporting actor, respectively and they’re both Oscar contenders. The film itself is up for the best picture Oscar, too.
A lot of the buzz is around McConaughey’s appearance – the usually buff rom-com star has dropped several stone to play Ron Woodruff, in this based-on-a-true-story-story of an electrician and rodeo rider who in his spare time was an awful racist, homophobe, womanizer and general all-round redneck douche bag. Seriously, he’s not a likeable character. Early on in the film Ron has an accident at work which leads to some medical tests which reveal that he is HIV positive.
This is all happening in 1985 when treatment was in its infancy, that is to say, approved drugs were a long way off. Further off than Ron’s prognosis allowed. He takes matters into his own hands, using legal loop-holes to get the best (experimental and unapproved and therefore legally questionable) treatments which he then uses and sells to others via the Dallas Buyers Club of the title.
One of the key themes of DBC and one of the most interesting elements, is Ron’s own prejudices against HIV and AIDS sufferers, and the gay community who make up a fair proportion of the other patients we see here. People he’s contemptuous of, to say the least. These prejudices are shared by his redneck buddies and that makes it impossible to maintain his old way of life. It’s the sense of isolation this causes that leads him to Rayon (Leto) a transvestite AIDS patient with a heat of gold.
So, Ron ‘goes on an emotional journey’ (yeah, I know, puke), and we see that he’s become a different person by the end of the film than he was at the beginning, he forms new relationships with people he previously wouldn’t have pissed on if they were on fire. His relationship with Rayon is touching, they act more like an old married couple than business partners and some of these scenes are genuinely moving.
For all the emotions, relationships and personal struggles, capitalism features large. Ron’s survival instincts are strong and his determination to find effective treatments are in no way altruistic. Not only does he want to find a way of prolonging his own life, and who can blame him, but there’s also money to be made. The treatments he promotes cost his clients $400 a month (almost $900 in today’s money). I don’t know anyone who has a spare grand a month burning a whole in their back pocket, but we’re lucky enough to have the NHS here, so paying for healthcare is kind of a weird prospect. I imagine we probably think about it differently than our American cousins.
Anyway, I feel I’ve gone on too long so in conclusion, Dallas Buyers Club isn’t perfect. The ending felt somewhat rushed, I wanted to know more about what happened there, and I did struggle to follow the timeline of events which was a minor annoyance. DBC is easily worth two hours of anyone’s time, though. Leto is an amiable and solid co-star, not to mention a striking woman, but it’s McConaughey who steals the show. He gives an outstanding (if sometimes irritatingly mumbly) performance as Woodruff, and his extreme weight loss only serves to heighten the character’s plight.