Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Oscar season is well and truly upon us and with this year it's brought the renaissance of Matthew McConaughey with it in full force. McConaughey spent years and years just pumping out forgettable, popcorn rom-coms. I mean "Ghost of Girlfriends Past"? Really? But he recently took a stand. He said no to the shitty cash cows and said yes to films like The Lincoln Lawyer and Mud. He said yes to films like Dallas Buyers Club.

Set in the 1980s, Dallas Buyers Club gives us a hard view of the world. The men are men: they ride bulls in rodeos, get in fistfights, work hard out in the oilfields, they drink hard and they play hard. They most certainly don't get one of those "faggot" diseases like HIV. Unless, you know, they have continuous unprotected sex with multiple partners (of the opposite sex, of course), do a lot of intravenous drugs or do any of the other things that can lead to higher risks of contracting HIV other than homosexual activity. One such man in Ron Woodruff (McConaughey). His lifestyle takes its toll on him and he finds himself being given only thirty days to live because of the virus. His friends and everyone around him turn on him, casting him out of their lives completely because of their homophobia, intolerance and ignorance. Woodruff only isolates himself more by repeating these views on the only people he finds who might actually support him. Eventually he is driven to crossing the border to Mexico to find medical help for his condition and begins the start of this "buyers club" where he smuggles unapproved medicines into the US for himself and to sell to other sufferers.

But you can't sell to people you won't deal with. And the biggest group of HIV positive people in 1980s Dallas happen to be the gay community that Woodruff hates so much... which brings us to the other shining star here.

Jared Leto, world renowned rock star, actor and generally just amazing guy plays Rayon, Woodruff's gatekeeper to the community he despised so much at the start of the film. Leto's role as a transgender woman has been called bold, but it's not really. The film is set thirty years ago and people like Rayon have existed publicly much longer than that, and it's not as if Jared Leto is known for his conservative values. A straight man playing a transgender woman with a boyfriend isn't bold. It's acting. That's his job. What is bold is the performance. Rayon isn't defined by the gender identity issues, but by the compassion she has for fellow sufferers and especially the person helping them, even if he is initially quite confrontational.

The pair do something transformational together through the second and third acts of the film. Ron Woodruff starts as someone truly detestable, at least by our contemporary standards, he is just a product of his environment after all. But through seeing who his real friends are and what actual support and love really are. It's hard to pinpoint it exactly because it's a smooth transition, but it's easy to see that capitalism makes Ron accept people, but it's only kindness that can foster compassion.

Politically there's another string to Dallas Buyers Club's bow. It's a damning indictment of the US' healthcare system. Despite being set thirty years ago, the system is still largely the same, with the FDA being in the pocket of big pharmaceutical companies and using cartel-like bullying tactics to force people into using only the most profitable courses of treatment, not the most effective.

Dallas Buyers Club is a film about freedom in a number of ways. People are fighting for freedom and acceptance to be who they are, and people are fighting for the freedom to determine how they treat their own bodies. They're more successful in some aspects than others, but it all combines to be a compelling watch that packs a true emotional punch throughout. McConaughey pulls a truly great turn as Woodruff and comes full circle from a hateful, self-centred asshole  to a generous and giving man who accepts people for what they are and gives help that they need. Leto's supporting role might just be career defining. They're both fully deserving of their Oscar nominations for this film. It would be no surprise to see either awarded.

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