Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, “Dallas Buyers Club” was most likely conceived with the awards season in mind, as it checks all the necessary boxes to be officially considered ‘Oscar bait’, and it is never a good sign. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner, the film is a biographical piece about Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a flesh-and-bone Texan who contracted HIV back in the mid-80’s when not only the treatment had not been properly developed, but the fact of being diagnosed with AIDS went hand in hand with being cast out to the margin of (a very conservative) society; all due to the widely drawn parallel between the AIDS victims and the gay communities. Despite the overwhelming odds and being unable to receive help in the US, Woodroof started smuggling anti-HIV medication from countries with less stringent regulation. Later on with the aid of his friend Rayon (Leto) they founded what later became The Dallas Buyers Club, a place where anybody – insured or not – could find treatment, a helping hand, or at the very least – solace.
It is nigh impossible to deny “Dallas Buyers Club” the universal acclaim it has garnered for its acting performances. Matthew McConaughey has proven again he is at the peak of his career and he can only go further up from there. His portrayal of Ron Woodroof was clearly physically demanding, akin to DeNiro in “Raging Bull”, or Tom Hanks in “Cast Away”, and also skilfully crafted into a fully fleshed character, that stole the show with his presence. McConaughey pulled off an extremely powerful, emotional and refreshingly funny performance, which most importantly didn’t feel like a performance at all. In addition, Jared Leto in his transformative role did not stay far behind and carried a substantial part of the film on his skinny and frail shoulders.
Sadly, this is where my admiration ends, as “Dallas Buyers Club” fails to distinguish itself from the crowd of similar biopics with its bland visual style and all-around mediocrity. I won’t argue it is a well-crafted piece, but everything about the storytelling and the visual style looks stencilled and unoriginal. The story plays all the right ‘biopic notes’, the crescendos are predictable, the character arcs are boring, and the drama rings false. Everything is aptly photographed in a Soderberghian sepia color palette and with an indie angle, which makes me feel as though Jean-Marc Vallée didn’t have a personality of his own. As a result, “Dallas Buyers Club” is a technically correct mesh of popular styles carried solely by a duo of stunning actors. The film feels calculated to woo the Academy, like the disastrous “The Butler”, but truthfully, beyond the performances it doesn’t deserve much at all.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a cinematic equivalent of the swing band you’d hear in a restaurant. It’s fine to have it as background to your meal, but there’s nothing special about the music. But, boy, that guy on the sax is awesome…