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08th Feb 2014

REVIEW – Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey Looks Like He Might Win That Best Actor Oscar

This is arguably the performance of the year...

Sue Murphy

Matthew McConaughey’s rom-com days are firmly behind him; the actor has gone through a career transformation that has rarely been seen in Hollywood, much less expected. For actors, it can often be the other way around, their great work comes in their early-ish days, then they move on to pretty much accepting whatever roles they can get or alternatively becoming a great supporting actor. The prime examples here would be Robert what-the-hell-happened De Niro and Al I-Can-Act Pacino.

McConaughey’s career has definitely taken a different direction. With the promise of greatness in A Time to Kill, McConaughey seemed like he was just accepting the pay cheque, picking lighter films where he played Prince Charming with characters that barely challenged him. It’s plainly obvious that he was looking for a new direction and with films like Mud, Killer Joe and Magic Mike in the cinemas, it almost became hard to believe that this was the same actor who had recently starred in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.

However, those films were just a warm-up act for the main performance, the wonderful Dallas Buyers Club.


The film has been a long time coming; Ron Woodroof, the character McConaughey plays, was interviewed way back in 1992 for a screenplay, but after ten different scripts were drafted, the film just didn’t receive enough financial backing. Even with talk of Brad Pitt playing the lead role, it just seemed like Dallas Buyers was never going to get made. McConaughey finally signed on in 2008 but it was still a long road to the big screen, which upon first viewing is completely hard to believe.

McConaughey plays the completely believable character of Woodroof, an electrician and rodeo cowboy, who discovers in 1985 that he has contracted HIV. His initial reaction to the diagnosis is one of complete disbelief, a lot of myths surrounded the AIDS virus in the 80’s, one of which was you had to be homosexual to contract the virus. When he comes to terms with the fact that he is quite ill, he attempts to sign up to a drug testing program in order that he may receive AZT, certainly not a cure for AIDS, but one that could possibly prolong life and help with the symptoms.

Woodroof is refused entry to the testing and ends up in Mexico where a doctor informs him he simply must begin taking better care of himself, insisting that he must stay away from AZT. Given just thirty days to live initially, Woodroof follows the doctor’s program, only to discover that the drugs he requires are not available to him in the States. Like any good hustler, he spots a gap in the market but in order to sell the drugs in the gay community, he must make his peace with him. Helped by Rayon, played by Jared Leto, Woodroof turns the project into the Dallas Buyers club, asking people to pay membership but giving them the drugs for free.

Dallas Buyers works on many levels, but most importantly it works on a human level. Woodroof is a completely believable character, a homophobic man with prejudices that affect even the most brief encounters with gay men. However, the fact that he is flawed, even if you don’t agree with his viewpoint, makes him human and ensures you believe his story and his journey. McConaughey plays the role to within an inch of its life, you won’t like him very much at the start but his humanity will shine through. There is no question that Ron is out for himself here, but it is difficult to ignore the impact he is having.


Leto’s character Rayon, on the other hand, will break your heart; a young sufferer he is abandoned by his family due to his sexuality and wanders through life waiting for the next hit, trying to keep himself alive a little longer. His relationship with Woodroof is simply stunning, you will not believe it possible that these two men could ever co-exist harmoniously and yet when Woodroof is abandoned by his friends, Rayon becomes his only ally. McConaughey and Leto’s commitment to their roles is nothing short of monumental, both losing an excessive amount of weight while Leto completely threw himself into his character playing a transsexual woman, his acceptance speeches for every award he wins are completely inspiring.

On top of the above, the film explores the whole idea of the “business of AIDS”, the massive amounts of money that the illness generates to pharmaceutical brands and the involvement of the FDA, a board which banned some of the substances Woodroof was using and trying to sell, some as harmless as just protein. Although the narrative turns Woodroof into a savior of sorts, the question does come through pretty loud and clear, does a government body have the right to ban a substance, in some cases harmless, that is alleviating pain or helping with symptoms of a terminal illness? I’m pretty sure you will discover where your loyalties lie towards the end.

However, Dallas Buyers also portrays how brutal the AIDS virus is, the prejudices that surround the people who live with it on a day to day basis, the psychological effect of knowing that your life will end from something that you are no longer in control of, but are forced to live with daily and the deterioration of your body as you know it. The layers Dallas Buyers creates will ensure you are a shell of a human being by the time you leave the cinema.

This is a film that you simply must see. You simply must.