Dallas Buyers Club Review
by Daniel Rester
Aside from Ben Affleck, perhaps the most impressive career comeback in Hollywood of the past few years has been that of Matthew McConaughey. With great turns in Bernie (2012), Killer Joe (2012), Magic Mike (2012), and especially Mud (2013), McConaughey has proven that that he can truly give rich and interesting performances. The big swing of this comeback, though, comes with Dallas Buyers Club, a film that may just lead McConaughey to his first Academy Award nomination – and deservedly so.
In Club, McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a real-life man who helped many people struggling with AIDS by smuggling anti-viral medications into the U.S. The film begins in 1985, with Woodroof as a homophobic rodeo cowboy who is fond of sex, drugs, alcohol, and gambling. After an accident at his work, Woodroof’s blood is analyzed and he is told that he has HIV and approximately 30 days to live.
Woodroof begins using the FDA-approved drug AZT, but soon realizes that it is bringing him closer to death rather than really helping. He then begins smuggling unapproved medications into the U.S. in order to help people who are dying of AIDS, as the AZT seems to not be making a big difference.
Woodroof also seeks the assistance of Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), who is his doctor, and Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender woman who also has the virus. With the aid of Rayon, Woodroof builds the Dallas Buyers Club, which sells memberships in which people pay a monthly fee in order to help themselves to all sorts of the medications.
Club is directed by Jean-Marc Vallee from a screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. Vallee and the writers present two memorable characters that the audience can really get behind, and they fill the story with many honest and emotional moments. However, some of the filmmaking feels a bit messy.
The film takes us to places like Dallas, Mexico, and Japan, and it spans a few years, yet we never feel the full weight of the situation with the AIDS virus. Club does capture the story of its central character well, but it is weaker in its attempts to highlight the true gravity of the situation with the virus in the 1980s. A main issue here lies with the editing, which seems all over the place at times. Still, Vallee and his team do present many scenes that are strikingly effective, and they deserve credit for that.
The glue that holds everything together is McConaughey and Leto. The movie is good by itself, but the two actors are great in it. McConaughey, skinny as a rail, is simply spellbinding as Woodroof. The actor brings a spontaneity and confidence to the role that is remarkable, and he manages to present the many flaws of the character while still making him very likable. Leto is equally superb as Rayon, disappearing into the role and providing a natural charm. Garner is likable as well, leading a supporting cast that includes such players as Steve Zahn and Dallas Roberts. But when all is said and done, this show belongs to McConaughey and Leto.
I wish Club was a bit more organized with its structure and goals, but it is still a terrific film for the most part. It is not a masterful “this-is-how-it-was” film like, say, Schindler’s List (1993), Milk (2008), or even this year’s 12 Years a Slave, but it does have its moments and features two of the year’s best performances. Such things qualify it as one of the must-see films of the year.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-)