While on the surface this might look like one of those Oscar-baiting, oh-so-worthy films that ends up boring you into submission with the weight of its own self-importance, the reality is far from that – this is a fairly straightforward and surprisingly funny tale that doesn’t shy away from what was a pretty horrible period of American history for many reasons, and although it takes some hefty liberties with real-life-events, there’s a compelling story being told here that’s helped along by a pair of commendably honest and alarmingly realistic performances.

Matthew McConaughey has taken a sharp career turn in recent years, ditching his ubiquitous presence in bland romcoms in favour of more challenging and credible work – the likes of The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud and The Wolf of Wall Street have earned him artistic credibility he hasn’t enjoyed since his humble beginnings, and as if playing the joint lead in the brilliant new TV series True Detective wasn’t enough, he looks set to crown what has been a remarkable run of work by winning an Oscar for his work here. It would be deserved – McConaughey takes what could so easily have been a sentimental role and really runs with it, sketching a fully-realised portrait of a complex but ultimately very likeable man. He’s matched by a near-unrecognisable Jared Leto, who also negotiates what could have been a hackneyed TV movie disease-of-the-week turn and finds layer upon layer of humanity instead. So if nothing else, this is a masterclass in screen performances.

It’s received criticism for the way it plays fast and loose with the facts however, and while some parts of its artistic licence is forgivable, others are less so. McConaughey’s character is portrayed as a homophobe, whereas the real person he is based on was reportedly bisexual and no such thing at all. While that isn’t exactly perfect, you can perhaps forgive such changes as they give the character more of an arc. What’s harder to make excuses for is the film’s massive oversimplification of the AIDS treatment options at the time. It paints a glowing picture of drugs which we now know were either ineffective or actually harmful, and portrays the retroviral drug AZT as outright dangerous, even though it prolonged millions of lives (which the film acknowledges in fairness, via a title card at the end). But while this fact-fudging is disappointing, it doesn’t take anything away from the exemplary performances and deeply affecting human drama on display, however embellished it might be.

Matthew McConaughey10
Jared Leto10
Frank Depictions of Homophobia and Prejudice in the 80s9
A Sense of Goddamn Humour9
Misrepresentation of Historical and Scientific Facts5
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
  • They talk about something other than men
Bechdel Test Failures
  • Jared Leto's character is a MTF transgendered person, so is therefore female. Do some reading if this confuses you.
9Overall Score

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