Dallas Buyers Club purports to tell the story of the homosexual community’s struggle with the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, but does so through the perspective of that oh-so-marketable demographic: the straight white male.
After being diagnosed with the AIDS virus and given 30 days to live, Ron Woodroof sets about acquiring any medicine he can that may help him, even drugs that were not legal to sell in the US in 1985. He soon sees a hole in the market that can be filled by members of the gay community stricken by the epidemic and establishes the Dallas Buyers Club.
The Academy will no doubt give themselves a collective pat on the back for recognising this film, as they did when they rewarded Tom Hanks for his ‘brave’ performance as a gay man in 1993’s Philadelphia. Another film which skirts around the issue at hand whilst refusing to completely engage with it.
This tale of community being decimated by a plague is diluted for easy consumption thanks to Matthew McConaughey’s central performance of a hard drinking, hard loving, straight-as-a-die Texan hustler. His resistance to the Queer community is dismantled over a game of cards with Jared Leto’s transgender Rayon in the first act, making that particular arc very short-lived.
Far from being the story of tolerance it is sold as, the screenplay is more concerned with one man’s refusal to accept death, which carries a thematic richness that is not afforded to the LGBT aspects of the story. The film also hits its stride when depicting the David vs. Goliath battles Woodroof wages with FDA as the pharmaceutical companies struggle to look beyond their bottom line.
The two central performances are worthy of their near unanimous praise. McConaughey utilises his tried and tested charismatic Texan swagger whilst reeking of desperation. With his slight frame and gaunt features he disappears into the role. Not to be outdone, Jared Leto infuses his feminine performance with grace and charm, giving us a three-dimensional character in Rayon. One that could have easily tipped over into caricature in less subtle hands, but never does. Jennifer Garner also delivers her most relatable work in years as a doctor caught between her patients and the medical industry.
The film is obviously crafted with the best intentions, but does a disservice to the community it tries to celebrate by refusing to show any intimacy between any gay couples. The death toll is downplayed considerably in an odd move, where thousands of AIDS related deaths (Texas alone) are represented in the passing of a sole character.
Experiencing this world through Woodroof’s heterosexual eyes condemns the film to the pit of un-ambitious Hollywood ‘issue’ based pieces. Ultimately this is a well-intentioned, mediocre movie elevated by the strength of two staggering performances.
– Tom Roe