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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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Dallas Buyers Club

Ron Woodroof is a broken man. A heavy smoker and cocaine user, he works his job as an electrician while slowly falling apart with constant headaches, ringing in his ears and bouts of unconsciousness on a consistent basis. After a trip to the hospital, he finds out from doctors that he has HIV, which will eventually lead to AIDS. Set in the 1980s, the wider perception of AIDS being an illness only suffered by homosexuals, Ron not only finds this hard to believe but also rejects the notion that he will die in 30 days.

He starts his journey by relying on an outside source to get him a drug called AZT, which is being clinically tested in the US. Ron then travels to Mexico where he finds medicine not approved by the FDA that at least stabilises his health, prolonging his life. From there, with the help of transsexual Rayon, he builds the Dallas Buyers Club, a business where he delivers packages on a monthly basis with the medicine he gets from countries with approved AIDS medicine.

All of this is portrayed in a stunning performance from Matthew McConaghey. His most grueling role yet, for which he lost 47 pounds and looked almost completely emaciated to play Ron; He brings a presence and aura to go with the character’s determination to prove his diagnosis wrong as well as find better treatment for those who need it.

Much has been said about Jared Leto’s role as Rayon and whether his performance and promotional interviews reflect well on the Transgender community as a whole. He does a good job but it feels as though the people behind the film were not sure of Rayon’s role in the story. Initially, his relationship with Ron feels like an unlikely bond over finding a similar AIDS treatment related goal. As the film progresses, Rayon drifts into the background, engaged entirely taking drugs and flirting with a boyfriend without enough screen time to develop into a reasonable plot point. As a result, even crucial scenes featuring Leto feel like filler and never stand out with the same definition as McConaghey’s.

In terms of being an accurate representation of someone in the trans community, the results are mixed as his characterisation veers between a realism and stereotyping on a near constant basis, never really settling with one side or the other, meaning the effort Leto puts in, which seems considerable is often in vain as the inconsistency harms his ability to make an impact. In the end he remains a puzzle piece that those creatively driving the film never really found a fitting place for. Elsewhere in the case Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn and Denis O’Hare turn out good performances but again, their parts of the story are not are not given enough depth or interest to justify their individual endeavours.

Putting the effort of the cast to one side, the film is rather uneventful in its presentation, even within its mostly 1980s ascetic. It sticks to a particular tone and remains consistant but never tries to take any real risks with a story that perhaps warrants at least some risk taking. For one thing, it never uses it’s main storyline arc of a man taking on the FDA and Pharmaceutical Industry to the extent it should, shying away from a potentially compelling storytelling device. As a result, much of the film feels like hot air, never wanting to really push through and get to the heart of the matter. Even at the conclusion, the film feels basic, expected and overall just projects itself as a film dedicated to a subplot to the much bigger issues linked to what was happening across America and the rest of the world with attempts to find effective treatments for HIV/AIDS.

Dallas Buyers Club is a mixed bag. Solid performances, in particular a continuation of the hot streak Matthew McConaughey has been on, but these do not overcome a story that is left lacking, not really grand enough for the almost two hour running time and as a result, never manages to pick up the steam it needed for a meaningful finale.

Dallas Buyers Club is out now.

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