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So, everyone is talking about how thin Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto got for ‘Dallas Buyers Club’. Having won a double pass to see the film I took myself and a friend to the Palace Westgarth yesterday to see for myself whether there was more to this film than that everyone was really thin. We chose the Westgarth for two reasons. Firstly we hadn’t been there for a while, and secondly, because it a beautifully restored Art Deco era cinema in the lovely suburb of Northcote.

Dallas Buyers Club: Dare to Live

Dallas Buyers Club: Dare to Live

The film is, according to the poster, inspired by the life of Ron Woodroof, a Dallas electrician who is diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in 1985. Ron wakes up in hospital and is given 30 days to live, and true to his bullheaded personality, he decides that dying is not in his schedule. From there we follow him as he sources medication from outside the US to treat himself and fellow HIV/AIDS sufferers, distributing them through the Dallas Buyers Club, and in the process becomes somewhat of an accidental activist.

It has to be said that the most noticeable feature of the film is McConaughey and Leto’s weight loss. It’s impossible to look at either of them without thinking they look unwell. There are numerous shots put into the film specifically to emphasise the point; thin legs under hospital gowns, protruding ribs, gaunt faces, and ill-fitting clothes. I have a lot of respect for the physical transformations that these two actors underwent, I’m not sure I could manage to stick to something like that.

In the beginning of the film, I didn’t like Ron. He’s racist, homophobic, sexist, a swindler and a generally unpleasant man. Through the course of the film we watch as Ron comes to terms with his own mortality, we watch him struggle to educate himself on what it means to have HIV/AIDS, to research treatments and to aggressively pursue every avenue he can to get himself more life. We also watch as he overcomes some of his prejudices to become good friends with Rayon (Leto), along with a number of gay men and other HIV/AIDS sufferers. By the end of the film we see the good in Ron, the humanity, the care. He becomes that big brother who will call you all sorts of names, who will bully and boss you around, but if anyone else tries it, he will defend you with everything he’s got. McConaughey skilfully portrays the conflict between Ron’s fear, sadness, despair and grief, and his inability to express any of it. Ron deals with difficult emotions by drinking, then crying; raw, ugly, uncomfortable, vulnerable crying. It’s definitely one McConaughey’s strongest and deepest performances.

Still: Ron and Rayon talk business.

Still: Ron and Rayon talk business.

Jared Leto, as Rayon, Ron’s unlikely business partner, and Jennifer Garner, as Dr. Eve Saks, one of the only American doctors Ron trusts, and as his unrealised love interest, play off each other and McConaughey to create a believable and layered world for Ron to inhabit.

I’m not usually a bio-pic watcher, and as such perhaps I came in with unrealistic expectations. There was something about the film that left me feeling a bit flat. The ending, predictably, is that Ron Woodroof dies. Undoubtedly, he was a fascinating man, and the story of HIV/AIDS sufferers and their struggle to get access to drugs they needed to survive around various FDA (Food and Drug Administration) restrictions is a story that needs to be told, but it just felt unresolved somehow. I suspect this is more to do with the script (Melissa Wallack and Craig Borten) than with the performances.

The director, Jean-Marc Vallee, is Quebecois and has several films under his belt, according to IMDb, but I’m not familiar with any of them. ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ was realised effectively, the acting performances were subtle and emotionally fragile, and in this respect it is clear the Vallee has done a good job releasing the strong performances from his cast and crew.

Overall, while well produced and acted, the film is not particularly memorable; it had all of the required elements, but seems to have fallen a short of excellent. I’m giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars.