Terrific performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto elevate this socio-medical drama out of the realms of the ordinary into something quietly remarkable. While McConaughey’s dramatic weight loss may make attention-grabbing headlines, there’s much more to his performance than the mere shedding of 30-odd pounds. Continuing the reinvention (dubbed the “McConaissance”) which has seen him lay the ghost of grizzly romcoms such as Failure to Launch with harder-edged roles in Magic Mike and Killer Joe, McConaughey is utterly convincing as the ravaged rodeo redneck who is given 30 days to live after being diagnosed with Aids, but who stubbornly refuses to lie down and die. Despite very strong competition from Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave, odds are that McConaughey will take the Oscar for best actor next month, with Leto similarly triumphing with best supporting actor. Both wins would be thoroughly deserved.
“Inspired by” the real-life story of Ron Woodroof, Dallas Buyers Club walks a delicate line between fact and fiction as it pitches an accidental antihero against the machinery of both the medical establishment and the government, the latter embodied by the lumbering behemoth of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Diagnosed HIV-positive in the mid-80s, and responding badly to AZT (at that time, the only officially approved medication), Woodroof circumvented FDA regulations by importing unlicensed drugs that he distributed “for free” through a club, which instead charged an “admission fee”, a loophole that meant technically he wasn’t selling the medication. The operation was a scam, but the results were impressive, as David France’s Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague powerfully points out; people with HIV/Aids often knew better than the medical establishment what was good for them, self-medication playing a key role in the fight against the disease. While the FDA was fatally slow in responding to new treatments, it was those with no time to lose who were at the cutting edge of research and buyers clubs played a significant (if controversial) part in that process.
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