Saturday, 8 February 2014

Dallas Buyers Club: The Magnificent Mr McGarnickle

Matthew McGarnickle looks set to win the Oscar for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof in this tale of aids, sexuality, capitalist medicine and muted redemption.

Ron is a drinking, drugging, humping, gambling electrician in the 80s, who finds himself diagnosed with this crazy new gay disease much to his homophobic dismay. 

He proceeds to do everything he can to grasp his last shreds of life, from stealing experimental drugs to smuggling illegal ones over the Mexican border. 

Many of the plot beats will seem familiar (Ron is ostracised by his redneck peers, homophobic graffiti sprayed on his house, Ron overcomes his own gay-bashing ways through his grudging relationship with fabulous transgender Rayon), but rarely will you see them attacked with such raw vigour as McGarnickle and director Jean-Marc VallĂ©e exhibit here. 

McGarnickle is astonishing. Attention-grabbing weight loss aside, he plays a reckless, selfish opportunist who confronts his mortality head on and refuses to be beaten down. It is a natural, un-showy turn that puts panto wigaramas like Christian Bale in American Hustle to shame. Does he deserve the Oscar? Well, I'm a DiCaprio loyalist and a Ejiofor lauder, so I couldn't possibly comment. And I haven't seen Nebraska. 

Jared Leto offers sterling support in a textbook straight-guy-plays-gay role, but this ain't The Birdcage, and Leto brings an all-important humanity to a character which could have tipped into shrill, camp parody in less sure hands. 

These visceral performances and an earthy, documentarian style couple to create a sense of authenticity often lacking in "worthy" drama, and the film strives for subtlety over sensation wherever possible. Questions may be raised regarding the message of a film about a homophobic straight man becoming "saviour of the gays", and there is a potential debate about how hard it might have been to cast a genuine transgender individual in Leto's role, but questions such as these are beyond the scope of the film itself.

Disregarding potential political connotations, what remains is a solid, earthy, convinving movie-of-the-week with an uncommonly superlative central performance. McConaughey is so good that I finally just googled how to actually spell his name, out of respect. 

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