If this were the 90s “Dallas Buyers Club” would likely be a surefire best picture nominee. It takes on a relevant issue (health care), features a best actor worthy performance from a major star, and is based on a true story. All those qualifications would have given it a strong edge, and still might give it a boost, but the film’s lack of extraordinary is what holds it down.
Matthew McConaughey gives arguably the performance of his career, but outside of that the film fails to deliver any more lasting impact. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s a good movie, just not one that grabs you and doesn’t let go.
The two big messages that “Dallas Buyers Club” offers is the importance of being able to receive proper health care and overcoming prejudice. Both are well-worn topics these days and “Buyers Club” doesn’t offer anything new with them. The relationship between McConaughey’s homophobic Ron Woodruff and Jared Leto’s transsexual Rayon is a touching story, and is the real heart of the film. Still, it’s an angle we’ve seen before in films like “Philadelphia.”
McConaughey is the real reason to go see the film. The hottest actor in Hollywood is at the top of his game here. His physical transformation alone is startling, but the emotional journey that he depicts is what really sells this film. The cocky hick he plays at the beginning to the humbled, compassionate man he is at the end is natural and expertly crafted. He will be a best actor nominee for this, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a better performance from an actor this year.
Jared Leto isn’t too far behind McConaughey. Leto brings a breath of fresh air for most of the film, providing McConaughey plenty of sass and constantly pushing his buttons and slowly breaking down his prejudice. It is his final moments, though, that really make this something special. What Rayon did for Woodruff, Leto did for “Buyers Club,” providing a spark that couldn’t be replaced once he was gone.
Everything else is simple, serviceable filmmaking. The story is a good one and the message is important, but director Jean-Marc Vallee can’t do more with it than it is – though he does try at times, to greater and lesser effect. It’s an old school effort whose parts are greater than its whole. In a year with such high quality, it lands just outside of the truly great films.