Film review: Dallas Buyers Club

Rodeo cowboy Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) has his world turned on its head when he’s told he has AIDS and only a month to live. Discovering that adequate medication isn’t available in America, he and a fellow AIDS sufferer, the transgendered Rayon (Jared Leto), seek other methods of obtaining the drugs in order to help themselves and hundreds of other AIDS victims.

Lately it seems that every time Matthew McConaughey graces a cinema screen, he shocks people at just how good an actor he is. He may have produced an awful lot of dross in the past, but his roles in films such as Killer Joe and Mud, amongst others, have surely exonerated him for his past indiscretions.

And surprise, surprise – McConaughey delivers once more as he tells the real life tale of AIDS victim Ron Woodruff, an immensely unlikeable character who draws us in with his passion to make a difference.

Woodruff is white trash, a homophobic rodeo cowboy who lives for himself and no-one else. However, the revelation that he has contracted HIV makes him question everything and re-evaluate how he sees the world. Sounds a little cliched? To be honest, that’s because it is.

Most of Dallas Buyers Club progresses exactly as you think it will, with certain markers in the sand to help it along. We have the bigot who changes his views, the little man against the big bad pharmaceutical company, the rebel within the company who sides with the little man; it’s nothing that hasn’t been said and done many times before. But that’s not to say it isn’t done well, because it is. It’s narratively sound, which may sound like damning with faint praise, but this ensures more peaks than troughs.

Whilst the story may be somewhat formulaic, the performances are anything but, and it’s our man Matthew McConaughey in the driving seat. McConaughey is imperious as the bigoted Ron Woodruff, switching effortlessly between anger, compassion, helplessness, and pretty much every other emotion in the book. McConaughey’s acting prowess comes as little surprise to anyone anymore and this role still falls close to his comfort zone at times, but it can’t be argued that he handles the performance wonderfully.

It’s easy to see why McConaughey has garnered such praise for his performance, but it’s Jared Leto who shines brightest as transgendered Rayon. The character of Rayon was created specifically for the film, but it’s undoubtedly a better piece of drama for her inclusion, and it’s just as much her film as anyone else’s. It would have been easy to keep Rayon as a camp parody, but Leto adds so many more layers to the character; a scene in which Rayon holds back the tears as she asks her father for money is handled with the perfect amount of subtlety.

Dallas Buyers Club is a lesson in how to play to the widest possible audience, hitting all the right notes in all the right places. It may long for an offbeat here and there, but its stellar central performances ensure a compelling and genuinely affecting experience.

Pros

  • Another superb performance from Matthew McConaughey
  • Heartbreaking performance from Jared Leto
  • Brings an important topic to a wide audience

Cons

  • Somewhat formulaic in its story and message

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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41 thoughts on “Film review: Dallas Buyers Club

  1. Mark Walker says:

    Great review Chris. I too gave it four stars and aIso found it quite cliched and formulaic. The dramatic license it took also irked me a wee bit. However, it very well done for the most part and the performances are top drawer. McConaughey has to take the Oscar in my opinion.

    • Thanks man. Yeah I heard it took a fair bit of dramatic license, particularly with Ron’s character. Apparently he was nowhere near as much of a homophobe or as aggressive in real life. McConaughey is definitely in with a shout for the Oscar and I wouldn’t begrudge him the win whatsoever. It’s a really close one this year, but I think Ejiofor just shades it for me.

      • Mark Walker says:

        Yeah, Raylon’s character didn’t even exist either. Still, it’s a great movie and both Leto and MM are very strong contenders. So you reckon Ejiofor? I couldn’t complain if he won. He was marvellous as he so often is. It’s great to finally see him get some recognition.

      • Rayon was clearly created to tug on the heartstrings a bit, but I think it would have been a worse film without her character, and Leto was amazing! I think pretty much any of the nominated actors could get it and it’d be tough to argue against it to be honest. Part of me wants Leo to get it but I can’t see it. I reckon it’s down to Ejiofor and McConaughey.

      • Mark Walker says:

        Again, I wouldn’t argue with DiCaprio either. He was absolutely immense! It’s probably the hottest contested year at the oscars for good while. I loved Bale in American Hustle but I’d say, he’s the complete outsider when you consider McConaughey, Ejiofor, Dern and DiCaprio. Christ, Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar Isaacs and, from what I hear, Tom Hanks could even have been chosen as well.

      • It really is a crazily tight year. Oscar Isaac could easily have been nominated, as could Phoenix. Saw Her the other day and he was brilliant in it. And that final scene in Captain Phillips is enough on its own to get a nom for Hanks. I think they can feel very hard done by.

  2. movierob says:

    Great review Chris.

    I really enjoyed this movie even though it was not comfortable watching MM and Leto here because their performances were so earth shattering and realistic. This movie may be somewhat cliched but it works.

    It will be a big shame if MM doesn’t take home Gold for this one!

  3. CouchKurisu says:

    Nice review! Yet to see this yet but definitely on my to watch list. Most intrigued by Jared Leto’s performance/ character.

  4. I did not know the story coming into it and was surprised at the turn starting his own company to save himself and then it became predictable with the hero ending. Like all others, I feel the same way that the acting was superb. While I believe MM deserves an Oscar, I still think Leo will collect this year. It’s like giving Scorsese an award for The Departed because he was bypassed by his other great films. Someone said, “Okay, it’s yours this year.” I feel that way about Leo.

    • It did become a bit predictable in the second half of the film and MM even turned into that charming guy we’ve seen over and over again. Part of me would really like Leo to pick up the Oscar but I just can’t see it unfortunately. I think it’s a straight fight between Ejiofor and McConnaughey this year, but it’s such a close one.

  5. Zoë says:

    Excellent write up Chris! I keep hearing about how good the performances are. I would like to see this soon just to hear what people were hyping up at least, and then I can understand your criticisms, too.

  6. jjames36 says:

    Great review! Agreed on every point, especially in that this film doesn’t suffer for its formula.

  7. sati says:

    Glad you liked it! I’m not that impressed with Leto, he was good but for me Matthew’s work was so layered Leto is far, far behind. I didn’t feel like I was watching an actor, but an actual person and I liked Ron in spite of his flaws – his determination and ultimately the fact that he did help all those people made him a good person. I also loved how fun the movie was – it wasn’t bleak and it really wasn’t about dying, but staying alive.

    • Spot on with your final line there! It really was good fun, which is slightly odd considering the subject matter. I’m really glad it wasn’t too bleak, it needed a certain amount of lightheartedness. I was more impressed by Leto though. In the second half of the film McConaughey was very similar to roles he’s done before, especially when he’s trying to schmooze Jennifer Connelly’s character. Still a brilliant performance though and I wouldn’t bet against him for the Oscar.

  8. chris2508 says:

    Brilliant review Chris. I always thought this looked a bit cliche and formulaic but I have no doubt that McConaughey would be great.

  9. Jim Turnbull says:

    Great review! Completely agree – phenomenal performances from McConaughey and Leto but pretty standard story. Really enjoyed it though.

  10. CMrok93 says:

    Definitely worth seeing for Leto and McConaughey, even if the rest of the movie is just okay. Nothing special, really. Good review Chris.

  11. Absorbing review Chris. You’re absolutely right in what you say about the performances. They raise this film to heights it wouldn’t have achieved otherwise.

  12. robbinsrealm says:

    Great review! I agree 100% with your take on the film.

  13. ruth says:

    My colleague was just raving about this film earlier today. Great review Keith, I’ll definitely give this a rent for McConaughey/Leto’s performance.

  14. Glad you enjoyed this! I agree with you that Leto’s performance was the truly outstanding one. Not that McConaughey wasn’t fabulous, too, but Leto deserves an Oscar by this point for all of his flawless shape-shifting.

  15. Nice write up. I wasn’t at all put off by the formula at work in the narrative (because as you say it is all done so well) but I’ve read a few reviews where people have been a little turned off by it. Couldn’t agree with you more on Leto’s performance, really outstanding. I’m completely torn between Leto and Barkhad Abdi for the Oscar.

    • Thanks Natalie. The bit that put me off a little was the whole attack on the pharmaceutical industry and the characters around that. The big bad doctor and then the one who fights back. It was just a bit cliched. But it didn’t really spoil it at all. I think Leto will win it, but Abdi would be a fine choice too. I kinda want Fassbender to win it, just because I think he’s brilliant!

      • Agree with you that Jennifer Garner’s character was one of the weakest aspects of the film. Her character just wasn’t explored enough which left her feeling a bit clichéd – she was used more to draw out McConaughey’s character. It was a tricky balance between character study and issue movie but I think on the whole it worked. How do you feel about the Oscars result? I’m pretty pleased for Leto – it was such a tough category.

  16. Victor De Leon says:

    Very good review! My wife and I found this film to be very moving. We were very impressed with everyone involved here. I don’t watch as many dramas as I used to but this one floored me. I do agree with your angle about the storytelling and cliches but it wasn’t too distracting for me. Good job!

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