Earlier today, audiences at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival finally got to see whether or not Matthew McConaughey lived up to preseason Oscar buzz for his role in historical AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club. As it turns out, McConaughey more than qualifies as a contender for the “Best Actor” race. Yet, the majority of praise fell on co-star Jared Leto, who plays a transgender HIV/AIDS victim that helps McConaughey’s homophobic, drug-using cowboy smuggle alternative medicine to keep the pair alive. Dallas Buyers Club is based on the life of Ron Woodroof, a man diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s who smuggled non-FDA approved drugs necessary for extending his life.
Focus Features, distributor of the film, no doubt has their eyes set on launching a huge awards campaign for their holiday indie. Expect McConaughey, Leto, and actress Jennifer Garner to be names in serious conversation right up until Oscar morning. The movie itself is said to be quite a bit weaker than the performances it helps showcase, which could make all the difference if McConaughey, Leto and Garner are fighting it out amongst their competitors for nomination slots. Particularly in the case of Leto, he’ll be going against McConaughey in Mud for supporting actor. If Jeff Nichol’s well-reviewed hit is one of the first awards screeners AMPAS members watch (and it looks like it will be), Leto could be left out no matter how scene-chewy he may be.
Also of note is McConaughey — once thought to be the frontrunner in Lead Actor — isn’t receiving the kind of hyperbolic exaltation that 12 Years a Slave’s Chiwetel Ejiofor has been for his portrayal of Solomon Northrup. Now, we know from last year that indie performances can be overlooked once the big studios come in and push their agenda to the forefront. With that said, I find it almost impossible to imagine that McConaughey and Robert Redford — who is also competing with Bruce Dern for the veteran vote — will both make it into a lineup, especially with performances from A-listers like Tom Hanks, Christian Bale, and Leonardo DiCaprio still on the horizon. A McConaughey snub is unlikely at this stage, but don’t rule it out. Just remember what happened to poor John Hawkes in the prior awards race.
Now then, here are some early reviews and Twitter reactions for Dallas Buyers Club:
Here’s what The Guardian’s Henry Barnes has to say about McConaughey and Leto:
Matthew McConaughey lost 38 pounds to play Woodroof. He delivers a twitchy, hostile performance on par with anything he’s done since he escaped the rom com cul-de-sac. He’s matched by Jared Leto as Rayon, a transsexual drug addict who goes into business with Woodroof and carries the responsibility of broadening the shit-kicking cowboy’s world view.
Jordan Hoffman from Film.com reiterates the point that people will remember the film mainly for its acting:
The specifics of plot (or any formal eccentricity) aren’t what’s going to stay with you, however. It’s all about the performances. McConaughey and Leto don’t just give voice to the disenfranchised of the 1980s, but all people suddenly faced with impossible challenges. The fireworks caused by pitting never-say-die Texas bravado against heartlessness is a powerful mix, and “Dallas Buyers Club” somehow manages to be an inspiring tale amidst all this sadness.
Drew McWeeny from HitFix gives a shout-out to director Jean-Marc Valee:
The film gets into the politics of how drugs are approved and developed, and it certainly points out some significant moments in the way we treat AIDS paitents now. Working from a strong, lean script by Craig Borten & Melisa Walllack, director Jean-Marc Valee (“The Young Victoria”) does exemplary work. He keeps everything personal. This isn’t a movie where we’re constantly cutting to other parts of the story to set some larger context. And it doesn’t feel issue-driven, the way so many of these films do. It is small-scale. It’s personal. It’s beautiful. It’s moving. It hurts. And, if people are ready to have a long conversation afterwards, it may even heal. You can ask no more from a movie.
Indiewire’s Eric Kohn enjoys the film but wishes more came from the roles played by Garner and Leto:
Woodruff’s rising business prospects provide sufficient content for an increasingly involving drama, as his dealings find him not only seeding the needs of the Dallas AIDS community but also traveling around the world in search of more unlicensed drugs. Unfortunately, most of the other personalities surrounding the scheme lack the same sharp definition. As the tender-hearted doctor initially divided over his cause before taking a radical stance of her own, Jennifer Garner delivers a basic, unadventurous performance that suffers from being in the shadow of McConaughey’s complex achievement. Jared Leto technically faces an even more daunting undertaking with his portrayal of Rayon, the angst-riddled transsexual driven to become Woodruff’s business partner. But while Rayon is a believably irritable outcast, he’s given only a handful of scenes to broaden the plot’s focus. For better or worse, “Dallas Buyers Club” foregrounds Woodruff’s struggles above all else.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB was excellent with powerful performances. Will def get acting nominations for lead and supporting actor. #tiff13
— Steven Weintraub (@colliderfrosty) September 7, 2013
— Lou Lumenick (@LouLumenick) September 7, 2013
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB: Fascinating portrait of AIDS epidemic from different POV. McConaughey is excellent but Leto really surprises. #tiff13
— Adam Chitwood (@adamchitwood) September 7, 2013
Dallas Buyers Club – Not bad, film is okay but not great. McConaughey is the best part and holy crap Jared Leto WOW he is beyond amazing.
— Alex Billington (@firstshowing) September 7, 2013
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is a watered down, shallow take on AIDS history that did nothing for me.
— Peter Knegt (@peterknegt) September 7, 2013
Dallas Buyers Club: low-key biodrama; slow but unusually unsentimental and affecting, Matthew McConaughey is outstanding #TIFF2013
— Damon Wise (@yo_damo) September 7, 2013