Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
Release Date: February 7th
Set in the 1980s, Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), an electrician who is diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. The homophobic Woodroof initially struggles to come to terms with his “faggot” illness, but eventually accepts his situation and seeks treatment.
Although the film sporadically updates the audience on how much time has passed since Woodroof’s diagnosis, it does so in a very confusing manner. It begins using a “Day X” method, but then switches to “X months later”, before informing the viewer of a specific date, only to go back to the “X months later” timekeeping and eventually finishing on the original “Day X” method.
At first, Woodroof approaches Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) about getting access to AZT, an antiviral in which had been approved for testing on humans. But even after illegally obtaining some AZT, Woodroof sees no improvement in his condition and so he goes to Mexico in search of non-FDA-approved treatment.
The rest of the film centres around a scheme whereby Woodroof transports drugs which had not been approved by the FDA into the US and sells them to others with AIDS, with the help of a transgender woman named Rayon (Jared Leto).
The film has received a lot of attention because of Leto’s supposedly brave decision to play a transwoman. Of course, there is the question of exactly why the studio decided to cast a cisgendered man instead of a transwoman.
There are many problems how movie treats Rayon, with the other characters constantly referring to her as “he”. In fact, transphobia and homophobia are two themes throughout the film.
Woodroof is quickly established as being racist and homophobic. Although we are supposed to see this in a negative light, his discomfort around gay people and Rayon are often used as a punchline.
There is also the issue with the decision to tell a story about the AIDS scare of the 1980s through the perspective of a straight man, despite the movie acknowledging that over 70% of AIDS sufferers at the time were gay or bisexual men.
McConaughey’s performance is surprisingly strong, and it carries the film through some weaker moments. The writing, however, leaves a lot to be desired, as Woodroof never acknowledges or apologies for his homophobic behaviour. Instead, we are expected to forgive Woodroof’s past actions after a few acts of kindness.
Dallas Buyers Club looks set to do quite well at the Oscars. McConaghey and Leto both won in their respective categories at the Golden Globes, although there is something a little off about Leto being nominated in the best actor category after playing a transwoman.
In a nutshell: The subject matter of the film means that it will have many of its faults overlooked, with McConaughey carrying the film.