Dallas Buyers Club - Movie Review
Have you been waiting for a film to finally prove two things about Matthew McConaughey? That he is a very good actor and he can actually make a good movie; then your wait is over. When McConaughey first started appearing in films in the early nineties he was the discussion of many critics and film enthusiasts who predicted a long career of great performances and good movies. But something happened around 1999 and he began to make some bad choices. He became an actor who once had promise, but disappointed us for nearly a decade. Remember, The Wedding Planner, Failure to Launch, Two for the Money, Fool’s Gold, Sahara, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, The Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past? I bet you do, even though you are trying to forget.
However, with Dallas Buyer’s Club, McConaughey strikes gold and seems to be back on the road we want him to be on that has included wise choices lately: Mud, Bernie, Magic Mike, Killer Joe and the Wolf of Wall Street. He plays Ron Woodruff, a misogynistic, drug using, angry, homophobic hustler in Texas in 1985. Living the carefree life of a promiscuous party animal that spends most of his time chasing women, drinking beer and doing drugs, Woodruff’s wild and fun lifestyle gets a grim dose of reality when he is diagnosed with HIV and given one month to live. Unable to fathom how this could happen, as he is not homosexual, Ron begins to do his own research only to figure out he contracted the disease from sex with a female IV drug user.
Faced with this horrible prognosis Ron takes matters into his own hands and begins to research, discover and procure alternate drug treatments other than the only one approved by the FDA at the time, AZT. This leads to smuggling drugs from Mexico and reselling them by opening a buyers club. Members, mostly gay men, pay a monthly fee and get the drugs for free, this way Ron and his staff do not break any drug selling laws and HIV victims actually get medicine that makes them feel better and greatly increases their quality of life.
Ron goes from a vile, selfish, self-serving jerk to a compassionate person who actually wants to do good. This journey, which seems impossible at first, is made possible by McConaughey’s layered and highly believable performance and also by the deft screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. Although it is difficult to like him at first, you certainly admire his feistiness, defiance, rebelliousness and perseverance, all great qualities that make the transformation credible. In a pivotal scene in a grocery store Ron sticks up for Rayon (Jared Leto) - a transgender buyer’s club associate – when a redneck friend bullies and berates him. Although elements of the scene have been seen before, it is totally credible and feels earned, thanks to the groundwork in place by the authors and actor.
Leto’s performance is also getting a lot of Oscar buzz, and at this time he is considered the frontrunner, for best supporting actor. He has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and a SAG award and has already won over a dozen – that’s 12 – critics’ awards. He is amazing, for sure. Transcendent, duplicitous, vulnerable, tough as nails and remarkably grounded, this is a performance that every actor wishes they could pull off. Who knew that Jared Leto could act? Bravo!
Buoyed by these two terrific central performances the rest of the cast is commendable as well. It is good to see Jennifer Garner forgo her star salary to do great independent films like this. She plays Dr. Eve Saks, and unlikely ally to Woodruff and the Buyers Club.
Everything works in this gem of a film. It is a fantastic story that moves along quickly, with compelling characters. It is never maudlin, preachy or self-righteous and ultimately a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and a caution about government politics and the power of the FDA to influence all of our lives.
Monday, September 22, 2014, Watertown, NY