They didn’t have the money or time to make this film, (the script for which has sat on the back-burner for nearly 20 years) and it’s therefore a miracle that it has even found its way to our screens. It was shot in 25 days, with only a percentage of the budget originally planned and using only available light. But you know what; this may have been the films saving grace. Instead of the overblown, schmaltzy, inspirational drama that this could have been, what you get in Dallas Buyers Club is a downplayed and subtle piece which lets the material and the performances speak for themselves.
Dallas Buyers Club just toes the line between truth and fiction in its re-creation of the story of Ron Woodruff, a straight cowboy who is diagnosed with HIV and starts importing unapproved medication in order to prolong his life. The Woodroof of this film is racist and homophobic and he starts to sell drugs and then membership to other victims of HIV out of purely opportunistic motives. The opening sequence shows Ron as a womanising, gambling, cowboy whose disgust at Rock Hudson’s life choices is clearly vocalised, and this is the Ron we continue to see. Equally, his friendship with Rayon, a cross dressing Jared Leto is formed because of its benefit to business and only towards the end of the film does this attachment feel anything like real friendship. There is no light bulb moment or anything akin to a grand turning point. What we see instead is the reality of the lives of two people who have been thrown together in a really grim situation. The film could have easily done something very different, but does not pander to the more emotional parts of the narrative. Much of this film is heartbreaking, but not because it is overly sentimental or we are emotionally manipulated in that direction, simply because of the nature of the story itself.
It is clear that this is a story about people and the two key performances elevate the film to something extraordinary. The name Matthew McConaughey has taken on a whole new definition in recent years. He has surprised everyone and been on a steady incline since he returned to our screens in his McConaissance, but Dallas Buyers Club sees Matthew McConaughey reach new heights. His performance of Woodruff carries such emotional weight without any attempt at eloquent speeches or grand gestures. The man we see in Dallas Buyers Club is a cowboy, through and through. Whether or not this is true of the real Ron Woodruff, it works.
Jared Leto’s character Rayon could not be more different. Cross dressing Rayon is Woodruff’s way into the gay community and at first their relationship is nothing more than business. Jared Leto is unrecognisable, not only because of the weight loss; the entire performance is truly immersive. Even in men’s clothing there is no trace of Leto’s usual fabulous glossy locks, he looks like a sick man, struggling to hold it together. Both actors do something special in this film, this is without a doubt a story about people so they drive it, we don’t need a drawn out goodbye to feel the loss of the character, the embodiment of them does that well enough.
Although the film is certainly not perfect it is nevertheless a remarkable watch, even if for the main performances alone. It is unfortunate that many of the minor characters, particularly those in the role of ‘baddies’ are very two-dimensional and clichéd. We already know whose side we are on here, they did not need to make that clear by turning the pharmaceutical reps and doctors into people with only one bad emotional state. Luckily they don’t take up much screen time and the lack in quantity of developed characters is more than made up for by the quality of the main two.
Nothing was overplayed; it didn’t need to be. The performances drive the material and the subject matter speaks for itself. It is emotive simply for what it is, and the truly remarkable performances by Leto and McConaughey are all it needs to elevate Dallas Buyers Club to the touching and important piece it is.