Film Review: Dallas Buyers Club

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Dallas Buyers Club is a great character study that gives Matthew McConaughey a chance to show off a level of range he’s never really had a chance to show off.

The story follows the last years, and post HIV diagnosed life, of Ron Woodroof, a Texas “cowboy” whose proclivity for having sex with lots of women ends up with him having to face death in the face. When left with thirty days to live, Woodroof begins to do whatever it takes to survive and eventually finds a way to not only help himself, but help others infected in his town as well.

The film does a great job of not being just a character study, but captures the social crisis and confusion surrounding the disease in the public eye. Woodroof’s reaction to the disease and the homosexual stigma that comes with it is ugly and the film never excuses him, or anyone else, for this behavior. Jean-Marc Vallée does a great job behind the camera as the film naturally represents the era and its character growth without ever feeling the need to blatantly spell things out. Vallée and his team also do a fantastic job at moving the film right along, not wasting a beat, and this is one of the first films I’ve seen in a while that didn’t lose their third act momentum; a dreaded pitfall for many a film. The period is brought to life convincingly, the film has a great look/sense of style and is very informative on the history of the fight against the AIDS epidemic. It’s a balancing act that could have become too preachy, dull, depressing or a combination of the three, but Vallée’s film is entertaining, heartfelt, honest and doesn’t pull punches when pointing the finger at those that deserve it. In fact, the film does an amazing job at shaming those that hold prejudice without ever heightening the world and does almost the same when it comes to corporate greed and corruption in our political system. It’s a very timely film for a story that took place over twenty years ago.

As engaging as the film is about the fight for survival and the politics behind the said battle, the film at its heart is an engaging character study of Ron Woodroof and his business partner, Rayon. McConaughey is, arguably, at his career best here, as Woodroof allows him to show off everything in his repertoire. Woodroof’s journey takes McConaughey through just about every emotion imaginable and he does so without ever losing the man Woodroof is clearly defined as at the start of the film. A hard ass Texan is always under the surface of McConaughey’s performance, but seeing him evolve into a more empathetic and decent human being, without the obligatory “moment of confession/change” is really impressive. The only minor nitpick I have with Woodroof’s character is that I wish they might have addressed the opportunistic nature of his endeavor. This has nothing to do with the performance, but it was one thing that felt, maybe, under addressed even if his motives are resolved by the end. The gold watch he Woodroof wears seems primed for a call back in the film and I found it odd it never came. Maybe the film is better without him addressing things so blatantly, and there is plenty of room for us to make our own assumptions, it’s just one lingering feeling I had.

Matching McConaughey is Jared Leto who comes out of nowhere to deliver an amazing performance as Rayon. A cross dressing HIV patient, Rayon becomes business partners with Ron and provides much of the film’s levity and heart. Leto gives himself over entirely to the role, both emotionally and physically (like McConaughey), and where his role could have easily devolved into camp it always rings honest and true. Rayon is just as complex as Woodroof and Leto delivers a performance that makes you wish he acted more often.

Dallas Buyers Club is a great character study mixed with an engaging look at the fight to survive the AIDS crisis that should be able to win over just about every audience member. Funny, honest and entertaining, Jean-Marc Vallée has crafted a fine picture and got two the year’s best male performances out of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Another great film to add to the ever growing list of 2013.

Dallas Buyers Club is an A-

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