‘Dallas Buyers Club’ Welcomes You In (Movie Review)
Dallas Buyers Club: 4 out of 5
Ron: I’ve got a newsflash for y’all: ain’t nothing out there that could kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days.
Apparently we are at a point where every 3-6 months a new film with Matthew McConaughey arrives in theaters and he once again turns in a terrific performance. On the heels of Mud and with The Wolf of Wall Street set to arrive soon, Dallas Buyers Club is here now as a film that not only provides McConaughey with a character full of issues to really dive into as an actor, but also puts him into a position to really show how far he will go physically, in an effort to play the role authentically. Of course, just because an actor lost 50 pounds to play a role doesn’t mean the film is automatically good, but Dallas Buyers Club does work very well as a drama about a conflicted and flawed man, who is forced to make very significant life changes, and the effects it has on those around him.
McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, an electrician, who also works as a rodeo hustler, and is most definitely a drug using, homophobic party animal. Ron is soon diagnosed with HIV and told he has 30 days to live. Not being satisfied with this information, he does his own research to learn more about preventative treatment. He learns of the drug approved by the FDA, AZT, but finds that he is nearly brought to death because of it. The solution: more research shows Ron that plenty of non-approved FDA drugs are available outside the US, so he heads to Mexico. After being brought back to a more stable condition, Ron realizes that profit could be made in these alternative treatments, leading him to start the Dallas Buyers Club, where he sells memberships (not the actual meds) in order to provide treatments to other AIDS patients. These actions bring on the attention of the FDA, but also lead to Ron opening his mind to tolerance, his own ignorance, and understanding what he is really fighting for.
I really like that this film had a neat approach to handling its lead character. While I will get to how the structure has some mixed results, the way Dallas Buyers Club deals with Ron as a person is solid. We are not given a guy who is immensely likable, but the film also does not turn him into a saint by its end either. At first we see that Ron is a bigoted cowboy and it really does take a while for that to completely go away. Similarly, his actions are very selfish and that again does not change for a while. Even as these changes occur, it is not as though Ron becomes a different guy or that there are just switches in his brain flipped on and off, the man has a personality that becomes skewed and the film finds a way to show that, while placing you on his side, which would be hard to argue against.
It is the path this film puts Woodroof on that is both the source of its greatest strengths and its weakest ones. McConaughey is great here, as he imbues Woodroof with not only a sense of physicality, but a sense of who this guy is, how his ignorance and hate for himself has really had an effect on how he treats others in the beginning, and how that changes over the course of the film. Because of this, the film proceeds down a route that is fairly common in these sorts of dramatic biopics. With that in mind, the other characters, while very strong performance-wise, suffer from being slightly underwritten, given that they exist and function in an effort to keep the film moving down a specific path.
Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto co-star in this film and give great performances, matching up to their best work in the past (Juno and Requiem for a Dream, respectively). Garner’s role as Dr. Saks is a neat one, as she forms a non-romantic bond with Woodroof, finding him charming in his offbeat cowboy way and is turned over to his side, as she discovers the issues being presented in her own hospital, based on the medical research studies for AIDS patients and what comes with it. There is something about this performance that continues to make me enjoy Garner most when she is diving into these real life dramatic roles. You can see the sympathy and frustration that her character goes through during the events taking place in this film, which are enough to make you look past what little there is to this character on the whole.
A similar argument can be made for Jared Leto’s Rayon. Rayon is a cross-dressing AIDS patient who becomes both a reliable source for more Dallas Buyers Club members as well as an unlikely confidant for Ron. The relationship between these two is key to the film, as it provides the most understanding in Ron’s change, as far as his views on homosexuals go. The film is wise not to overdo how much Ron’s change in heart goes, but in makes little difference for Leto, who similarly looks incredibly gaunt, but gives his all to make this performance come to life. The character is a source for comic relief and drama, even with those aspects being machinations of the plot, but that still should not under credit the quality of Leto’s performance.
It is a bit unfortunate that I have to address the film in this manner, but regardless of what has been dramatized, there is a true and interesting story to tell, just not one that lives outside of a basic structure. With that in mind, Dallas Buyers Club is a film that I really enjoyed watching. It is most certainly a drama, but McConaughey really sells his performance and the film is confident enough in the way it tells its story that it really should not matter how standard it may feel overall. Matthew McConaughey being a strong highlight in a film is once again the path to a solid viewing, which is a nice thing to keep saying, given that an actor is now consistently tapping into his talents. Dallas Buyers Club provides the actor an excuse to ride into the sunset of success once again.
Ron: I got one life – mine. I want it all to mean something.