Jean-Marc Vallée has gained major recognition over the past few months for this originally unassuming low-budget film about a man who struggles with AIDS despite not even being nominated for a best director Oscar himself. The recognition it has got in a lot of the other major categories is what increases the expectation here, since its actors, specifically Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, are the respective favourites for their categories of best and supporting actor.
Those two nominations are deserved however, and McConaughey in particular shines in what could have been a very difficult role. As the so-called McConnaisance continues with an ever faster pace, it is becoming increasingly clear that he is an exceptionally talented actor. Here he encapsulates Ron Woodroof perfectly, showing how his prejudices and misjudged preconceptions morph in to anxiety and acceptance over the course of the film, the sheer resilience of his character forcing McConaughey in to a tour de force of a performance. Despite the thin frame that he worked so hard to achieve, he fills the frame with sheer quality and steals almost every scene. It’s definitely the sort of performance the writers Craig Borton and Melisa Wallack will have dreamed of, and if the pair do win Best Original Screenplay they will most certainly have him to thank for bringing those words to life so well. McConaughey himself certainly rivals Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in ’12 Years A Slave’, a man I had previously backed for Oscar glory. The fact he’s made the decision all the more complicated is compelling enough, and it may indeed mean that we have seen the last of the famous McConaughey romantic comedy poster lean. Those days seem to be gone, and most probably forgotten.
Jared Leto’s performance, while not quite on the same level, is worthy of acclaim too as he manages to breathe life and make us believe in a character that could also have backfired badly. Rayon, a transgender woman who also has AIDS and meets Ron fairly early on, works well as a sort of meter for the way that Ron’s AIDS affects him and his views, and their relationship with each other is by turns touching and tragic. Leto has always been a solid actor and this just shows what he can do, so perhaps it’s time he finally quit his day job shouting in to a microphone. That would be fine with us.
Moving, darkly humorous and very involving, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is definitely a success, avoiding being too sanctimonious and allowing us to appreciate and understand Woodroof’s story, for it most definitely is one that needs to be told. McConaughey’s performance is a major part of the film, and it is he who succeeds so well in getting us to empathise so well with his character, even despite his many flaws, and it builds the relationships and friendships in the story with a grace that makes them feel genuine all the way through. It may have a pretty linear structure as a film that essentially plays the man-against-the-odds card like we’ve seen in so many other films, but it’s the way it’s done here that makes it stand out. ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is not so much about AIDS as a disease than about human resilience and understanding, and it certainly manages to get that to shine through amidst all the tropes of its style.