"Leto and McConaughey give extraordinarily physical performances that instantly stand out"
The stars of Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, have been inundated with both nominations and wins this awards season, and rightfully so. McConaughey is one of the most exciting acting talents working in Hollywood at the moment and here he gives possibly a career best performance. McConaughey and Leto have received nods from next month's Academy Awards, in Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor respectively, and both are hotly tipped favourites. For Québécois director Jean-Marc Vallée, his second English-language feature (after 2009's The Young Victoria) promises to be his biggest film to date.
Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), an electrician living in Dallas in 1985, is blunt, brash, and openly homophobic. Stereotypical redneck trailer-trash, we first meet him working at a rodeo, his world is crushed when he is diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. It quickly becomes evident that Woodroof has an incredibly strong will as he initially refuses to believe his diagnosis. Determined to prolong his life, and initially impeded by the bureaucracy of the local hospital's drug policy, Woodroof starts importing unregulated drugs from Mexico and unintentionally finds himself to be the hero the local AIDS community is crying out for. He forms an unlikely business partnership with Rayon (Leto), a transgender woman, and the pair form the Dallas Buyers Club as a way of getting round drug regulation.
Leto and McConaughey give extraordinarily physical performances that instantly stand out. Both actors lost a significant amount of weight for their parts and they look like they were born into the bodies of their characters, McConaughey in particular is fantastic. The quality of the lead performances is by far the most memorable thing about Dallas Buyers Club, a point which may work to the detriment of the movie. The film seems to lose its way a little around the final third and while it's a perfectly enjoyable watch, it doesn't really feel like it has the weight to stay in the minds of audiences for years to come and certainly pales in comparison to some of the other Best Picture heavyweights.
For a film set at the height of the AIDS crisis, Dallas Buyers Club isn't really as grim as it needs to be. We see little of the devastation that plagued so many, and Woodroof's drugs tend to come across as an outright cure rather than just a way of staving off the inevitable. For a script that has been floating around for so long, almost 15 years, the film feels oddly empty, like the filmmakers have forgotten the point they were trying to get across. Sure, Woodroof undergoes an inevitable transformation away from his homophobic past, but by the time it rolls around it is all starting to feel a bit flimsy.
Enjoyable, but ultimately unrewarding, Dallas Buyers Club is a perfectly fine film that could've been so much more. The deep subject matter and interesting characters capped with a pair of stunning performances could have led to it being an early contender for film of the year but a meandering final third make it disappointingly plain. When emotional behemoths like 12 Years A Slave are in the running, it just feels like everyone else needs to step their game up.