I always try and make it a point to see the movies that are awards-nominated at this time of the year, just so I know what all the fuss is about. I saw August Osage County a couple of weeks ago and last weekend I saw Dallas Buyers Club, the film for which Matthew McConaughey has won the SAG and Golden Globe awards for Best Actor and is touted to do the same at next month’s Oscars.
The film is set in the mid 1980s and tells the true story of Ron Woodruff (McConaughey), a hedonistic rodeo cowboy and ladies man, who discovers he is HIV positive and according to the doctor has about a month left to live. Woodruff initially ignores this diagnosis and continues partying like a madman, but eventually his survival instinct kicks in and he begins to educate himself with regards to treatment, finding that many of the best medications are not yet approved by the FDA. Ron forms an unlikely alliance with a transgender woman and fellow HIV sufferer called Rayon (Leto) and the two create the Dallas Buyers Club, a membership club that exploits a legal loophole; members pay an admission fee and then receive HIV medication that Ron smuggles in from Mexico where it is approved for use. The FDA soon find out about Ron’s questionable activity and wage a campaign to stop him.
Dallas Buyers Club is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Cafe de Flore, The Young Victoria) who deftly balances humour in the early part of the film with sadness as Ron’s illness progresses towards its inevitable conclusion. Vallée does not go down the road of cheap sentimentality nor does he try to soften Ron’s orneriness to get the viewer onside, and the film is all the more affecting for it.
Of course everybody is focussing on the superlative performances of McConaughey and Leto. When tabloid pics surfaced of the two men on set last year the world gasped at how thin they were and in fact they lost a combined five stone to play their roles convincingly. However the weight loss is only a small part of McConaughey’s dedication to the role. His portrayal of Woodruff’s evolution from unsympathetic homophobic sexist redneck, to an enlightened more moral man is remarkable.
Dallas Buyers Club continues McConaughey’s recent return to form (or “McConnaissance” as Chris Ryan termed it on Grantland, and you can read a great article by Anne Helen Petersen on it here) and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he goes home with an Academy Award on March 2nd. I really hope that Leto does too; his performance made the movie for me.