A film such as Dallas Buyers Club gives a sense that, for all its support of liberal, progressive causes, Hollywood still much prefers to treat them as self-congratulatory, piously edifying "problem pictures" that fit a comfortingly formatted, pre-existing shelf. Indeed, some of that can be seen in this otherwise estimable and smarter than usual drama from Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée: an adaptation of the true tale of hard-living, hard-drinking Texas womanizer Ron Woodroof, who was diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980s and explored a number of parallel, unofficial treatments made possible through "buyers clubs".

     That Woodroof's story is embellished and fictionalised in Dallas Buyers Club is hardly a surprise (when truth is in the way of a good story, it has a habit to fall by the wayside), but that this is technically an independent production made outside the Hollywood channels is pretty much an admission that what passes for "independent" film nowadays is really just an edgier take on what would have otherwise been major-studio production. Worse, that a story about the role buyers clubs had in AIDS activism still seems to require a heterosexual experience at its heart to get made (and run all the way to the Academy Awards as Dallas Buyers Club is doing) is very disappointing in a post-Brokeback Mountain, post-Milk landscape.

     Still, these caveats aside, Dallas Buyers Club is a nicely done picture that avoids most of the melodramatic excesses its tale would be prone to; Mr. Vallée's handling, discrete and smart (avoiding for instance any musical score), makes up for the archetypes at the heart of its script, where each character serves a precise dramatic function (Jared Leto's transvestite martyr, Jennifer Garner's kindly doctor-cum-love-interest) and is neatly arranged within the framework of an openly redemptive story. What could have been a movie-of-the-week true-life drama is easily transcended by Mr. Vallée's almost imperceptible energy and, above all, by two show-stopping performances that have depth and heart under the overtly visible physical transformations the actors went through: that of Mr. Leto as Rayon and especially Matthew McConaughey's as Woodroof, both of them zeroing in sharply on the inner essence of their characters.

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, Denis O'Hare, Dallas Roberts, Jared Leto
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Screenwriters: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Cinematogaphy: Yves Bélanger  (colour, widescreen)
Designer: John Paino
Costumes: Kurt Swanson, Bart Mueller
Editors: John Mac McMurphy, Martin Pensa
Producers: Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter  (Truth Entertainment, Voltage Pictures, R2 Films, Evolution Independent and CE Productions)
USA, 2013, 116 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 5, Lisbon, December 6th 2013

Winner of three 2013 Academy Awards (Best Actor - Matthew McConaughey; Best Supporting Actor - Jared Leto; Best Make-Up)
Nominated for three other Academy Awards (Best Picture; Best Original Screenplay; Best Film Editing)


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