Dallas Buyers Club
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
The story of Texas man, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), who was diagnosed with the HIV virus in 1985 and how he created a club of HIV and AIDS patients who could receive drugs and helped them survive when these drugs were not approved by the FDA. A powerful, moving and honestly told true story from director Jean-Marc Vallée with absolutely knockout performances from McConaughey and Jared Leto. This film really dives deep into the emotional turmoil of people fighting with this devastating disease and how hard it was to receive good, effective treatment. It also examines the struggle with Hospital's and the FDA in the ability to not be test subjects for supposed treatments that may or may not work. A film that revolves around Woodroof, mainly, but also examines his own coming to terms with the disease and his overtly one-sided view on those infected with HIV and AIDS, as well as his own denial of his diagnosis. A wonderful film, even though maybe stretched a bit too long in coming to a conclusion, but never once was I unaware that I was watching something with so much power and heart.
Dallas Buyers Club, years in the making, starts with a very thin McCounaughey playing the lead Ron Woodroof. An electrician and part time bull rider, but also a womanizer, heavy drinker and drug taker, mostly cocaine, living in a rundown trailer park in Dallas, Texas. Woodroof is a hard partying man, constantly with a cigarette in his mouth and a glass of whiskey in his hand, rallying off homophobic slurs and sleeping with any woman in his sight. One day Ron collapses and goes to the hospital. He wakes up and the doctors, Savard (Denis O'Hare) and Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), inform him that he in fact has HIV and has about 30 days to live. Being anything from liberal-minded, Ron storms out of the hospital, but has his condition deteriorates, he must come to terms with this disease that he only believes homosexuals encounter. Ron's life is turned upside down and he begins AZT, a drug that is in the testing stages, but does not do anything but cause the patients health to become worse. Ron must seek out treatment elsewhere so he can survive.
First off, McConaughey has once again outdone himself here. After stealing the show in films such as Killer Joe, Mud and Magic Mike, he goes through an unbelievable weight transformation in this role. He lost over 40 pounds and you are witness to every bit of his struggle and poor health with this astounding weight loss. An absolutely brilliant, stark performance from an actor who is completely, one-hundred percent on the right track. He not only nailed the disease and weight loss of a man with a serious HIV infection, but plays the redneck, homophobic and booze drinking conservative Texan with furious intensity and gusto. Never once did I not believe he was that 1980s Texas playboy and want-to-be cowboy that nothing bad could ever happen to him. You see it powerfully in scenes where he goes to the local honky tonk and all his co-workers will only look at him with disgust. No pity. Just disgust over a man that was a friend they went out with to get women and drinks, but has to be gay or have had an homosexual encounter to become diagnosed with this disease. At this time, when so little was known about HIV and AIDS, those were the only people who got that disease. He will easily be one of the actors to beat for Best Actor at the Academy Awards this year.
Ron has to do something to stay alive. He painfully does not want to die and especially from HIV. While receiving the ill and ineffective AZT treatment, he meets Rayon (Jared Leto), a cross-dresser who also has the disease and is the exact opposite of Ron. He is gay, very feminine, but can also play and bet cards way better then the homophobic Ron. Ron eventually works with Rayon to create a club "The Dallas Buyers Club" to help this with the virus. Ron will go to Mexico and bring back illegal, unapproved FDA drugs to the states. HIV and AIDS patients can pay for a membership, $400, and receive the drugs that help keep them alive a lot longer than AZT or anything else the FDA has to offer. Mexico, Ghana, Israel or Amsterdam. Anywhere Ron has to go to get these drugs back to the states, mainly for him, but since he is not working and cannot get a job, he, and Rayon, can make money by selling and offering memberships. One man, who is so conservative and single-minded, saving hundreds of men, some women, with there struggling health. Touching and shows that some people can grow, even if it is hard for them to take themselves away from there ardent values and views on life.
As good as McConaughey is in this film, Leto is just as fantastic. Leto plays Rayon with flamboyancy and brute honesty. He is who he is and never once is deterred, but mostly amused by the overtly manly Woodroof. Rayon's heart is on his sleeve with passion and emotion. Leto, like McCounaughey, has gone through an intense weight loss transformation to detail the the severe impact HIV had on human beings. Without a doubt, this is the best role of Jared Leto's career, and he was pretty damn brilliant in Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000). He plays Rayon with so much irony and sarcasm, but at the same time is touching and tear-inducing. A cross-dressing man that is terrified to die. In one scene where he knows it is getting close to the end, he desperately hugs his partner, with tears rushing down his face, and states his desire to live. So powerful, honest and brilliant. Every emotion and pain are expressed so powerfully in every blink of an eye and corner of his face. Leto, along with Fassbender in McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, are easily the top two contenders for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards and any other awards. My pick would be Leto. He completely blew me away in this role.
The rest of the cast is at top form as well. Garner, in the best role of her career, is caring, but stern as a doctor wanting to do more for HIV and AIDS patients, but cannot due to the limitations of the FDA and hospital administrations. O'Hare is great as always and another surprise is Griffin Dunne. He plays Dr. Vass, working out of Mexico, who sells the working drugs to Ron. Ron has got to get those drugs at any cost and Vass helps him tremendously. Dunne, who only has a couple of scenes, is excellent in this role and probably is his best work since Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985).
The story continues and the end is inevitable for Ron. Director Jean-Marc Vallée paints a dirty, touching portrait of the HIV crisis in America during the mid-80s. So little was known about the disease at this time and Vallée, along with screenwriters Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten, bring this about throughout the film. They focus not solely on the homophobia and hate, but the affected. How these people impacted others and how by just helping yourself, you extend yourself to help others. You begin to realize the importance of life, love and your right to protection. Rayon and Ron might have disagreed throughout, but they knew they needed each other to succeed in helping themselves and others inflicted with the disease. The shear brilliance also lies in focusing this film, a true story, on a man who never in a million years would think he would get HIV. A man so homophobic, that he is forced to come to terms, not with just the disease, but with his own outlook on life. It may not change much, but it shows the depths of character building and storytelling that is so vital at making this film so good. The only problem with the film I have, and it is minor, is that the last twenty minutes or so dragged just a bit too long for me. I felt like it was taking too long to come to the conclusion, but once we arrived at final scene with Ron, the tears were built up and ready to flow.
Dallas Buyers Club is a must see. A film that does not delve too much into the onset of HIV and AIDS, but focuses on the struggles of a man coming to terms with his disease and his own lack of open-mindedness. His struggle to understand, eventually, the hard realities of coming to terms with his lifestyle and the consequences of his actions. The film has two knockout performances from McConaughey and Leto. Truly brilliant work from these two actors. Minus a slight over extension of the story, this film is one of the best of the year. It brings to life the importance of support and companionship between people. How we can always help each other in times of dire need and how that help and love is all we need in life.
Photo credit by IMDB.
Photo credit by IMDB.