Dallas Buyers Club – Review


Keep enjoying the “McConaissance”

A few years ago Matthew McConaughey’s career as an actor stagnated. Far removed from the days where he was plucked from obscurity to star in a film adaptation of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, McConaughey would become pigeonholed as the guy in movie advertisements as arm candy to a gal who was looking to lose a guy in ten days. Morphing into the American equivalent to Hugh Grant, starring in a bunch of romantic comedies with an interchangeable starlet, his career path would change as the direct result of another fellow Texan and his emotional problems.

In 2007, Owen Wilson had a rumored suicide attempt and battled depression. Speculation was that the depression was brought on by Wilson’s on again-off again relationship with Kate Hudson, an actress who would occupy the “interchangeable starlet” role alongside McConaughey a time or two. With Wilson in no condition to star in friend Ben Stiller’s comedy Tropic Thunder, McConaughey stepped up in relief in a supporting role. Though small and overshadowed by the likes of Robert Downey Jr.’s “dude playing a dude disguised as another dude,” and Tom Cruise as the Diet Coke-chugging, hot-headed studio executive, it was enough to make producers take notice. But it wouldn’t be until 2011 until the “McConaissance” officially commenced.

Enjoying the type of rejuvenated career that befell actor Ben Affleck when he took to directing, Matthew McConaughey has quickly built a film resume that proves he’s more than a pretty face and arm candy for the starlet of the moment.

It would be easy to contend that his latest film, Dallas Buyers Club, is his attempt to Oscar bait his critics. McConaughey undergoes a physical transformation that looks to serve as a means to deliver a performance that shoots for awards attention and nothing more. But here’s the thing: The film isn’t a maudlin melodrama, investing in shallow theatrics. Yes, McConaughey dropped fifty pounds for the docudrama, and yes the story hits on those emotional beats that goes with a Man vs. Big Business scenario, but Jean-Marc Vallée‘s film is an inspirational one anchored by a pair of strong, meaningful performances.

The setting is Texas, 1985. Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is an electrician and part-time rodeo bull rider. A wild man who enjoys drinking, snorting, and screwing the latest bar floozy, he receives a lifestyle wake-up call in the form of being diagnosed with AIDS. T-cells in the single digits instead of the 500-1000 count range spell Ron’s demise, yet he remains in denial even when the doctor tells him he has 30 days to live. Going through the five stages of grief – including bargaining, not through prayer or inside a confessional but at a strip club – Ron hopes his emphatic pleas to Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner) will get him into the AZT drug testing study for a chance of survival. Refused, Ron relies on his wiles turning to the black market for treatment. He eventually ends up in Mexico, where a once-licensed U.S. physician (Griffin Dunne) educates Ron about unapproved vials of synthetic protein and pills that encourage a natural fight against the disease, outside the hands of the Food and Drug Administration. Seeing the potential in being able to manage the deadly virus, Ron organizes the Dallas Buyers Club, a small business enterprise that charges money for memberships as a way to avoid legal entanglements. That is until the Club becomes too large and big government intervenes.

Dallas Buyers Club sets up Ron’s story in a sly way. Opening up on Ron and friends gambling, there’s brief discussion about the recent revelation about Rock Hudson’s AIDS exposure, where the star of such films as Giant and A Farewell to Arms, and figured to be a real man’s man was revealed to be homosexual. Such acute description made many think AIDS was a homosexual plague. So when Ron gets his diagnosis, it is foremost a medical emergency but it also becomes a crisis of reputation. Here you have a man whose drinking buddies alienate him on the perceived notion that he sleeps with men.

The episode launches Ron to learn as much as he can about a disease that he thought only affected homosexuals. Scanning through microfiche and books and articles about Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, Ron ascertains how he contacted the disease while also realizing the enormity of his current battle to live.

Dallas Buyers Club contains subject matter that some will have difficulty digesting. It is a bittersweet film of discomfort – especially Matthew McConaughey’s drastic weight loss. His Ron Woodroof character is far from a saint, with his fornicating ways leading to his contracted disease. He also has rage issues and dogged homophobia, the latter of which comes into play when be begins the Club with his business partner, Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender supporter, who he meets when admitted to the hospital. Yet, the story turns from just being about Ron’s plight to become a story about designing an enterprise that infringes upon the medical establishment and FDA regulators.

As if it wasn’t already apparent, the film’s greatest asset is Matthew McConaughey and his transformation into a gaunt cowboy for the role. His acting is strong but still includes a few over-the-top notice me moments. Tangling with mortality and meddling government intervention looking to put a stop to the Dallas Buyers Club, you can just see the anger blister from McConaughey’s pores. Also of note is Jared Leto. His supporting role is pretty much a stock character, but he provides Rayon with some depth and idiosyncrasy.

If given a fighting chance an individual can do incredible things. This is the core of Dallas Buyers Club. Ron Woodroof’s refusal of submit and move forward with life – where 30 days turns into years of fighting and failing – is celebrated to the highest degree with Matthew McConaughey’s stunning portrayal. See it and you’re likely to agree.

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer(s): Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Notable Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne

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