There seldom comes a film where an actor gets to do it all. Not only is he a medium for what the director wants to convey, he is also its final end; he is what is being conveyed. And what’s more, he has to bear the cross of conveying it. In that sense, it is the most challenging role in an actor’s lifetime. And fulfilling.
In Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey is that actor. He is not alone either. Keeping him company, matching him scene to scene and seam to seam is Jared Leto. Jean Marc-Vallée could not have asked for anything better. The two have given the perfect vessel to carry out his vision, so much so that they have become his vision. No other two actors, at least no two actors this year, have complemented each other like the two do in this film, and that’s not even stretching it. There are no exaggerated emotions, not one foot put wrong anywhere
Imagine yourself — or don’t, it’s not a pleasant thought — as a man in the 1980s, who has just been detected with the HIV virus and given 30 days to live. That’s 30 days to ponder what exactly went wrong. You are not a “faggot”, and only “faggots” and “nancies” got AIDS. Remember, this was 1985 or thereabouts and the deadly disease had not even become that famous. You spend the first day of the last month of your life boozing and snorting. You wake up the next day and you are no less deader than you were yesterday. You are still confused, you don’t see how you could get it, you are a straight man, who loves “booty” and “junk”. You decide to research for yourself to see where you went wrong. A few pages down the paper you are reading, you chance upon a part that says “needles”, “unprotected sex”, “multiple partners” and AIDS in the same breath.
The truth, when you see it, refuses to register. It can’t be happening, yet it has. So, what do you do? Do you just fold up and die or do you do what Ronald Woodroof (McConaughey) did: decide that you must live? Probably the latter, but just how far would one go to live? As an HIV-positive Dallas cowboy-electrician with scrawny shoulders shows you, the lust for life is sometimes bigger than life itself. It surely is the bravest sentiment.
Throw in a cross-dressing drug-addict, who has also tested positive for HIV and the struggle to stay alive makes more sense than any other struggle at any time. Geographical borders and governmental rules are odious, nugatory in the larger end to live just a few days longer. Can anyone be so apathetic to not feel the pain?
Holding a mirror to society, Marc-Vallée’s film is also a commentary on the unholy nexus between big pharma and Capitol Hill. He knows that noble as the idea may be, to endure, it required outstanding performances. To his credit, he did not go down the tested road, but to the most unlikeliest of places. Before Dallas Buyers Club, no one would have given McConaughey and Leto even a fading chance of having achieved what they did. After this, it’s equally unlikely the two will get another shot at something like this. I’m not even sure they would like to.
Dallas Buyers Club would do that to you. An all-or-nothing shot, they just don’t do them like that anymore. Physical transformation aside, there is no way McConaughey could have done it without the real Woodroof to look to for inspiration.
That and a will to live.