2014 has been the year of Matthew McConaughey. With countless awards under his belt, roles in some of the most successful films of the year, and a stint in HBO’s True Detective (which has already reached the dizzying heights of Breaking Bad acclaim) McConaughey has thrown himself into roles, most notably, Dallas Buyers Club, where he lost a shocking amount of weight to play Ron Woodruff, an archetypal deep south cowboy diagnosed with AIDs. Ron sets up a Buyers Club, where he distributes unapproved AIDs medication to AIDs suffers when he finds that the drugs improve his condition significantly, exceeding the 30 day life expectancy given to him at diagnosis.
Dallas Buyers Club explores a multitude of issues revolving all around Ron’s transition from waster, to patient, to business man to activist. It’s quite obvious in the beginning the Ron’s character is extremely homophobic, his masculinity is unquestionable, sleeping around, taking drugs, drinking heavily. When he is diagnosed he immediately protests at the suggestion that he’s got AIDs, disease of gay men. The time setting is obviously very important here, the early 1980s, before the AIDs awareness programs, and awareness of the fact that AIDs wasn’t just confined to gay men. The realisation of his diagnosis leads to Ron having a full breakdown. Upon doing some research, he discovers AZT, a new drug proven to help with the symptoms of AIDs. Despite notable improvements to his AIDs symptoms, Ron notices overall that AZT destroys pretty much everything else in his body. Upon advice from a hospital porter, he visits an American doctor banned from practicing, and operates from a run down hospital in Mexico, who advises Ron on alternative treatments, and this is where the Buyer Club is established.
The film has a wonderful cast attached, Jared Leto playing Rayon, a transvestite who also has AIDs, a well deserved Oscar for his performance. You can tell from his effortlessly intricate performance that he invested a lot into this character. He plays Rayon so well, it’s like the role was made for him. He works so well against Matthew McConaughey’s Ron, considering what Jared Leto is known for to majority of people, he is one of the few talents in movies, who is so pliable and fluid, and that is a rarity. Dallas Buyers Club is the ultimate movie for each of it’s cast members. Matthew McConaughey, so often found as the butt of jokes or in some lame romantic movie, finally, finally breaks through and shows audiences what was underneath that tanned, toned, eye-candy exterior. I have to admit, I’ve never particularly been a McConaughey fan. Pretty much every movie he was put me off, because it was him, but actually, after this stellar year of screen time for him, I’m not ashamed to admit that perhaps I was wrong. He is utterly mesmerizing, his portrayal of Ron is sensitive yet shocking, enlightening and powerful. And clearly, based on his appearance alone, you can tell how much he invested himself in this film.
Dallas Buyers Club obviously deals with homosexuality, gender and masculinity. But I really like the way it’s been shown. I think that, rightly or wrongly, a film about AIDs, specifically set in the 80s-90s, cannot avoid the subject of homosexuality. But what I thought was different was the portrayal of AIDs, homosexuality, transgender and masculinity which fed into each other, like a tapestry. There was no right or wrong answer, it all culminated into a sort of grey area exploration of society. There wasn’t a focus on homophobia, nor was there exploitative or stereotype views of gay men. What actually matters in Dallas Buyers Club is two people who defy common law, who defy conventions of gender expectation and sexuality to concern themselves in a political and medical cause. The right to treatment, and the right to be seen as patients, and not experiments. It starts off as a money-making scheme for Ron, AIDs meds equals cash, but by the end, you can tell that the money doesn’t matter. Whilst not necessarily the victim of stereotyping, Ron’s awareness of his own diagnosis and those around him, forces him to face his own role within this secular community, one which was demonized and criticised (gay men deserved it, because they are gay). And we see his personal struggle with his own mortality, his inevitable eviction from his circle of friends, and not actively wanting to embrace the demonized society into which he is forced into, culminating into his transformation as a spokesperson, a figurehead and activist. Ron’s character and story, is so rich and multi-faceted, it’s honestly surprising that Matthew McConaughey did so well in it, but he did. And it was one of the most compelling performances I have seen in a long time.
Dallas Buyers Club is in parts, tough to watch, but not so overly emotional or tortured. Nor does it emotionally blackmail its audience, because frankly, Ron starts off as a bit of a dick. We’re not really supposed to feel sorry for him when he is diagnosed with AIDs, there’s a flashback/montage type scene which almost stands to say ‘well, look, you deserved it’ and you kind of feel that way, but actually, rather than this being a death sentence, it’s transformed into an opportunity, to right his wrongs, to change his life, and that’s where you connect with Ron. It’s a superb film, truly, one of the best films from 2013/2014, and I sincerely hope it stands the test of time and is looked back upon as a masterpiece, it deserves it.