Québécois Jean-Marc Vallée’s seventh feature film, Dallas Buyers Club relates the true story of electrician-cumdebauchee Ron Woodroof. A typically homophobic native of 1980s Texas, he morphs into the unlikeliest of heroes when he is diagnosed with HIV and given a projected thirty days to live.
Disillusioned at his deterioration in hospital, Woodroof instead decides to take and then sell unapproved drugs, but ultimately proves to be far less immoral than the medical authorities, who unscrupulously promote a more financially profi table drug with lethal side-effects. This dichotomy of exploitation is made so abundantly clear that it approaches caricature. Fortunately, however, Vallée’s nuanced portrayal of human nature stretches beyond the familiar tramlines of the them-against-us story. The contemptible greediness of the powers that- be is boring in its sterile constancy; comparably, Woodroof’s evolution as the central character is fascinating.
An intensely unlikeable character from the fi lm’s inception, that reedy Ron earns our sympathy and profuse admiration is testament to Matthew McConaughey’s candid performance. The spectre of impending death largely explains his transformation, of course. Circumstance forces him to accept those formerly the butt of his vitriol.
Initially bound together by a shared desire for fi nancial gain, Ron’s friendship with Rayon, a transgender fellow sufferer, plays out with a growing, largely latent sensitivity which concurrently surprises and enthrals. Jared Leto is formidable as Rayon, displaying an impressive gamut of emotions with teeming vitality. Though Ron never seems to be condemned by the authorial voice of the fi lm, neither is he lauded as a bastion of righteousness. The lack of overt moral judgement ensures that the narrative is dominated by an underlying futility. The stark realism at the heart of Dallas Buyers Club gives it a gravitas which only intensifies the poignancy of its focus.