Film Review: The Dallas Buyers Club

Life//Film / TV


One of the most controversial and potentially sensitive films of 2013, the Dallas Buyers Club stares squarely into the eyes of the audience and unapologetically tells the enigmatic and incredible story of Ron Woodroof, (Matthew McConaughey) a rodeo cowboy with HIV. Based on a true story, this work of pure art is something that cannot be justified in print and so I urge you to watch this film in all its glory; however I shall try my hardest to give you an insight into this fantastic piece of cinema.

In 1986 Ron is diagnosed with HIV and is given only 30 days to live, however after a new drug to aid HIV starts a trial he pays a hospital attendant to smuggle him some of the test samples. The drugs prolong his life yet give him nasty side effects, and so Ron starts the difficult task researching other substitute methods, in an internet-free time this would have been near impossible. The act of a desperate man clinging to his life shows Ron driving to Mexico in a despairing search for an alternative treatment. We then get the opportunity to follow on an exceptional ride where Ron smuggles the drugs back into the United States and creates a ‘buyers club’ for other sufferers. The heart-warming, emotive and intense story follows Ron striving for dignity, education and acceptance. Overcoming his own prejudice and hatred of homosexuals, Woodroof befriends Rayon (Jared Leto), a Southern transsexual Aids sufferer with a lust for life, drugs and men who look like Mark Bolan. The two become firm friends and Rayon helps Ron get more buyers from his inner circle of friends and associates. The rest, I shall leave for you to explore yourself.

An almost undeniable link between the bareback riding of bulls in the rodeo scenes is reflected in the serious undertone of how HIV and Aids is transferred between people. However instead of breaching the subject of condoms and contraception, the plot takes Ron, an undiagnosed sex addict, down a road of abstinence and celibacy. (Apart from one woman after he is diagnosed who has ‘full blown Aids’.) This may be due to the era in which this film is set or possibly to focus the audience on how different Ron’s priorities become once diagnosed with a death sentence. It could be to really show the contrast of his taking responsibility and becoming a more mature character.

Spoiler alert: The final scene where we see Ron defiantly jumping on the back of a bull at the rodeo, wrapping the straps around his thin, papery fists and holding on tightly, could parallel how strong and defiant he is about taking back and holding onto his own life. Something that gives you hope at the end of a rather emotive and passionate film.

McConaughey reportedly lost 3 stone to play his part taking dedication to another level. He has joined the likes of Tom Hanks and Christian Bale who also starved themselves for their roles in Castaway and The Machinist and is now considered a ‘serious actor’. He locked himself in his Texas mansion for 6 months to create a pallid pale skin tone and due to the extreme weight loss he started to lose his eyesight. He couldn’t run for more than 40 paces before his legs locked up and could only do 5 push ups before getting tired and sore. He became a far cry from the tanned, muscly and handsome man he is so well known for. His role has gained critical acclaim and is one of McConaughey’s most drastic and dark roles. His transition from the Hollywood heartthrob to a more mature and respected actor has led him to collect a Golden Globe and Oscar in the last year.

The director, Jean-Marc Vallée, decided that to tell this truly remarkable story he could not use Hollywood lights and cinematography to portray the raw emotions and plot. Instead he used all natural available light and shot with hand-held cameras to enrich the real and honest portrayal of the character. This film was shot in 25 days and edited in 20, this is an enormous and monumental feat that shows the difference between a Hollywood film and an Indie Film. The budget had no money for a score and so Vallée created the character Rayon (Jared Leto), to have an obsession with Mark Bolan. Leto’s performance is just as magical and incredible as McConaughey’s and his transformation into Rayon was also very demanding. Leto’s interpretation of Rayon is sassy and strong yet he gives the ‘heart’ to the film by creating an unexpected friendship with Ron. Through Rayon’s help, we evolve with Ron and accept his illness. The beautifully portrayed friendship progresses from a prejudiced and angry encounter, to a mere business associate then to a poignant and emotional friendship that draws you in and tugs upon your heart strings.

This film is definitely one for every person out there, no matter your opinions, prejudices or interests this film will open your eyes and hearts as well as, surprisingly having you laughing. You will be audibly shocked at the transformation of McConaughey and Leto’s bodies and at the ignorance of HIV sufferers in the 1980s. You will be entranced with the fight and desperation portrayed and feel involved and defiant along with Ron and Rayon. This film is worth every nomination and win that it has won and is a piece of pure art.

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