Review: Dallas Buyers Club

EXCELLENT: Dallas Buyers Club
EXCELLENT: Dallas Buyers Club

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee

Almost two decades after he burst on the scene with the searing one-two punch of A Time to Kill and Lone Star, Matthew McConaughey might finally be delivering on that early promise.

Mired in a seemingly never-ending series of shirt-off, throwaway rom-com and action roles (Sahara, The Wedding Planner, Ghosts of Girlfriends' Past), the now 44-year-old Texan has become one of the most compelling screen presences of the past couple of years.

From Killer Joe to Mud and Magic Mike to The Wolf of Wall St, McConaughey has been stealing minds as well as hearts now with a succession of you-can't take your eyes off him roles, culminating in this truly stunning performance as electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof.

Rivalling Christian Bale's turn in The Machinist for sheer alarming physical transformation, McConaughey does a fantastic job of charting redneck, reckless Ron's own metamorphasis into a champion and tireless campaigner for those with Aids.

Imagine if Denzel Washington's Philadelphia character had contracted HIV and you'll have some idea of the real-life tale told within Jean-Marc Vallee's (The Young Victoria) stark and stylish film, whose mix of dizzying, disorientating visuals (clever point-of-view shots abound with the rodeo-set opening and a "seeking salvation" scene that turns out to be in a stripclub rather than a church the highlights) and choice tunes (here it's everyone from The Naked and Famous to Neon Trees and Thirty Seconds to Mars to T-Rex) reminds one of his remarkable 2005 French-Canadian film C.R.A.Z.Y.

It's while being assessed for the after-effects of an electrocution that Woodroof first receives the news. Having seen "something that concerned us", Doctors at Dallas Mercy Hospital conduct additional blood tests which come back positive for HIV - the virus that causes Aids.

Intitially convinced that they must have mixed up his test with "a daisy puller", the combination of "lungs bleeding, skin crawling and a jackhammer in my head" persuades him otherwise. And when going on a bender doesn't help, he throws himself into research, which leads him to the experimental drug AZT.

Dallas Mercy won't let him on the trial so he decides to do a deal with one of the orderlies. To his horror though, AZT actually seems to be making him feel worse and so acting on a tip he makes a last desperate run south of the border to a doctor who takes a more "naturalistic" approach to healthcare.

Making something of a miraculous difference to Woodroof, he becomes convinced that it could help others in his dire situation, if only there was a way of skirting the Federal Drug Agencies draconian rules and regulations.

Co-screenwriter Craig Borten spent many hours with an ailing Woodroof to compile the material for the story and the result seems well worth while, as what seems such an intimate tale becomes something of a globetrotting epic (at times it's almost like a Bond film) as the charismatic and cantankerous Woodroof seeks to find ways to stay one step ahead of both the US authorities and the virus itself.

But while this is undoubtedly McConaughey's film and arguably his finest two-hours on celluloid, he is supported by a terrific cast that includes a head-turning, scene-stealing Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream) and a beautifully understated Jennifer Garner (Juno).

A triumph of low-budget filmmaking, exquisite storytelling and an actor at the peak of his powers.