Dallas Buyers Club, dir. Jean-Marc Vallée, wr. Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack, st. Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Dallas Buyers Club is the kind of film Oscar loves. It's got a time-tested David and Goliath, anti-hero-against-the-world storyline, solemnity in subject matter themeology, and body-morphing performances from its leads that serve as omnipresent reminders of the actors commitment to character. But alas its arrival just in time for awards season bestows upon it the kind of hysterical praise and elevated status that might not have befallen it were the film released at any other time of the year. That's what happens around Oscar time. Any sense of measured proportion goes straight out of the window. But it cuts both ways. Historically, unworthy films have slipped by only to have accolades lavished upon them, films that don't stand up once the red carpet has been rolled up (Shakespeare In Love, Million Dollar Baby, Crash - I'm looking at you) but conversely, films have been lauded whose commendation belongs far from the stroboscopic camera flashes and tuxedos (Dances with Wolves, The English Patient, Ben Hur) of the night.
Which brings us to Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club, the true-but-tweaked story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan rodeo cowboy and blue collar electrician who, upon discovering he's contracted AIDS from much unprotected sex, hotfoots it across the border into Mexico in order to purchase life-saving drugs - life-saving, but FDA unapproved back home in the States. Unable to sell the drugs directly, he cleverly sets up a club, whereby membership costs, but the drugs come free.
There is certainly no doubting McConaughey's stratospheric trajectory. From The Lincoln Lawyer to Killer Joe to The Paperboy to Mud to The Wolf of Wall Street to this (with HBO's unfathomably good True Detective along the way), the promise and surprise of his next roll is as delectable as its delivery. He portrays Woodroof as a man slowly disintegrating as much from the booze and coke he mainlines as the toxic drugs that are supposed to be healing him - or indeed the ravages of the illness himself. Ron is an immensely proud man. Bullish, confrontational, aggressively homophobic - all the things that, while effectively and persuasively realised, are laid on a little too thick for us not to predict the closing of the redemptive circle near the film's end. Added to which, it seems to have been invented or at least augmented in order to sweeten its reception with audiences. There is, of course, nothing wrong with dramatic license, but there is when films sell themselves on the supposed veracity of their content. This aside, there's much that's conventionally appealing here. It's a relatively simple tale, boldly and skillfully told with sensitivity and candour; whether its impact burns as bright in post-ceremonial embers remains to be seen.