Movie reviews: Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club *****
Robocop ***
Mr Peabody and Sherman ****

It took 20 years to get Dallas Buyers Club (16s) onto the big screen, and it’s not difficult to work out why. Opening in Dallas in 1985, it’s set against the early days of the Aids epidemic, as electrician and occasional rodeo bull-rider Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) is diagnosed as HIV- positive and given 30 days to live. Told that he can’t buy the drugs that might save his life, and further outraged to discover that the only prescribed drug AZT is still undergoing clinical trials — the HIV-positive patients are, effectively, human guinea pigs — Woodruff refuses to go gently into that good night. Travelling to Mexico, Holland, Israel and China, Woodruff sets up a network that bypasses federal law banning the sale of drugs by evolving into the Dallas Buyers Club, where HIV patients sign up and get their life-prolonging drugs for free. Based on a true story, and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, the story sounds like the kind of conventional Oscar-bait in which the underdog triumphs in a heartwarming tale of the unbreakable human spirit, but there’s a kicker — Ron Woodruff may be the hero of the piece, but he’s nobody’s idea of a nice guy. A racist, sexist, redneck homophobe who indulges heavily in cocaine and casual sex, Ron isn’t exactly a squeaky-clean counterpoint to the Machiavellian drugs industry, and it’s to the credit of McConaughey that he is not only prepared to get under the skin of such a squirmingly unpleasant character, but that he can earn our grudging respect for the man in the process. It’s a phenomenal performance that fully deserves its Oscar nomination, although Jared Leto, playing the deliciously provocative Rayon, gives McConaughey a strong run for his money. Heartbreaking, uplifting, bleak and joyous, Dallas Buyers Club is a breathtakingly honest film about doing whatever it takes to survive.

Much like its eponymous hero, Robocop (12A) offers an intriguing blend of human and machine. Joel Kinnaman stars as Alex Murphy, a Detroit police officer blown up by a car bomb whilst investigating crime lord Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow). Rebuilt as part-man, part-robot by OmniCorp, a company attempting to put a human face to its drone-like robot police force, Murphy becomes Robocop, a virtually invincible force for good. At least he might be, if he had enough of a soul to allow him differentiate between good and evil. Directed by José Padilha, this remake of Paul Verhoeven’s dystopian sci-fi from 1987 throws up a number of juicy conundrums for the audience to chew on, particularly in terms of ‘the illusion of free will’ and how far humanity is prepared to go in outsourcing its safety to unfeeling machines. Kinnaman turns in a strong performance despite the constraints of his cyborg role but while the more human aspects of the movie are neatly done, the action sequences have a flatter, more mechanistic feel, not least because those shot from Robocop’s perspective are styled as a computer game shoot-’em-up. The anti-drone warfare satire of the piece has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, but the performances more than compensate, with Abby Cornish and Gary Oldman, playing Robocop’s wife and creator, respectively, offering a persuasive argument against untrammelled law enforcement on behalf of flawed humanity.

Mr Peabody and Sherman (G) is the latest animated offering from Dreamworks, in which Sherman (voiced by Max Charles) is a boy and Mr Peabody (Ty Burrell) is a dog. Not just any old dog, though: the wealthy Mr Peabody, Sherman’s adoptive father, is a scientist and an inventor who has created the WABAC, aka a time-travelling machine. When Sherman starts school and gets bullied by Penny (Ariel Winter) for having a doggy dad, life lessons are learned by all courtesy of the WABAC and its trips back to the French Revolution, ancient Greece and ancient Egypt. Directed by Rob Minkoff (The Lion King), Mr Peabody and Sherman is a charming fable about a parent’s struggle to relinquish the reins and a child’s odyssey towards self-understanding. Thus it really is that kids movie cliché, one for young and old alike. It’s also a rollicking action adventure, a potted history lesson, and a boy-meets-dog love story guaranteed to gladden all but the most cynically hardened of hearts.


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