At this time of year, it’s almost expected that any movie worth its salt will have strong acting performances. They are a given requirement for awards consideration, so any actor hoping to be revered for their talent had better be on their game. It may be the quality of their acting or even, as is the case here, the method by which their characters are achieved. If you’re lucky, you’ll get both; committed and convincing performances that show how far those actors will go for their craft and just how good they are it, too.
Dallas Buyers Club features performances by two such craftsmen, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Both of these men have altered themselves to such a degree as to almost overshadow the film itself, such has the hubbub been about their physical transformations in preparedness for their respective roles.
This celebratory partial biopic of an entrepreneurial, misogynistic and homophobic redneck that sees a window of opportunity when receiving the worst possible news cannot be denied. It’s not pretty, for sure. Just the opposite, in fact. This is an ugly tale of what happily turned out to be a positive ending for a lot of miserable people, suffering from the same unfortunate disease as experienced by our two main leads here.
But let’s not forget, this wasn’t for charity, so let’s not idolise these men too much. Such a response may, after all, account for a good deal of the positive feeling coming out for the film. This is not something anyone associated with the film would point out, so I feel duty bound to oblige. Our lead, one Ron Woodroof could be accused of being the architect of his own destruction, given his predilection for whores, drugs and alcohol, all of which he enjoyed in excess. At no point will he have imagined that these pastimes and pursuits were good for him, so it may be safe (if a little cold and heartless) to say he had it coming.
Still, you don’t have to like a character (and you probably won’t, if we’re honest) to engage with or be entertained by them. McConaughey’s portrayal of Woodroof is measured and what we would guess is honest. It certainly is achieved through determination, given his methodical commitment to reducing his frame in order to give his version of Ron Woodroof more validity.
The same is true for Jared Leto, but possibly even more so. Not only did he lose the weight, but successfully convinces acutely picky audiences of his ability to pull off the role of Rayon, a woman trapped in a man’s body, suffering from the same debilitating disease. No mean feat. We appreciate he was a pretty boy anyway and the work of a Hollywood make-up artist may be more focused than your wife is when applying her own face paint before a night out, but nonetheless, credit where it is undeniably true. The two of them have committed and delivered where it counts.
Story-wise, this is not moonlight and roses. It doesn’t end well and it is hard work even getting there. The tale of Woodroof is not really even that inspiring if we’re honest. Yes, he did make the lives of many people a little more comfortable, but he didn’t have to suffer for it personally and he didn’t do it for free. Really, he was no greater a man than the guy that takes way your trash. He does it because he has to, or he can’t get up the following day to do it all over again.
The script is fine but never soars like the actors performing it want it to and as we have already mentioned, the story does little to entice the viewer. As an example of excellent acting, this is as good as any you will find this awards season, but make no mistake, the film or the story are not really worthy of the talent employed to create it. If we as viewers saw that maybe, just maybe, Ron had become rounder and larger for his apparent trials and pharmaceutical feuds, that he had learnt a little about humanity and spirit, then perhaps this would have been a more satisfying experience, and not just merely a professionally appreciative one.