Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto look all but set to scoop Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscars respectively for their roles in Dallas Buyers Club. Their performances are exactly the kind of thing that usually proves a magnet for awards, although one can’t help feel a smidgeon of cynicism amid the acclaim. After all, certain cliché boxes have been well and truly ticked: “worthy” subject matter, weight loss, melodramatic histrionics, based on a true story… “Committed” showiness rather than understatement is generally the order of the day.
In spite of this however, I must admit (through slightly gritted teeth) that their acting is very good, and that Jean-Marc Vallee’s direction held my interest throughout. The plot opens in 1985, as bigoted, homophobic, hard-drinking, drug-taking, womanising, bull-riding Texas white trash hustler Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is told he is HIV positive and has thirty days to live. Refusing to lie down and die, Woodroof decides to acquire non-FDA approved drugs from Mexico to fight his condition, and at the same time supplies other HIV/AIDS sufferers, including Leto’s character Rayon, with whom he forms an unexpected odd couple bond. Subsequently the FDA and Pharmaceutical interests take a dim view of Woodroofs activities, and do all they can to shut him down.
Woodroof’s character arc is certainly illuminating. When we are first introduced to him, he is a pretty repugnant character (by the way, I should add the usual warnings here about swearing, sex, nudity and drug abuse). But, as the adage goes, you can’t judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. Because Woodroof is forced to walk in the shoes of those who are similarly afflicted, he develops sympathy for them and changes his attitudes – especially once his former friends (who are just as homophobic as he is) turn their back on him. Woodroof was clearly no Christian, and one could argue his motives were selfish, but his journey to compassion is fascinating. Whatever his reasons really were, I would argue he ultimately demonstrated a Christ-like attitude to those on the margins of society that puts many Christians to shame, not to mention the corrupt FDA and Pharmaceutical companies.
Ultimately, it is McConaughey and Leto’s performances that really sell the film. Should they win at the Oscars? I would still opt for Chiwetel Ojiofor and Michael Fassbender instead (for their extraordinary performances in 12 Years a Slave), but I suspect that won’t happen now. That said, Dallas Buyers Club is very fine piece of work and well worth a look.