To say that actor Matthew McConaughey is having a good year is a bit of an understatement – one could say that he’s living it up in fact- including his newest film The Dallas Buyer’s Club.First, there was the dirty and intense thriller Mud which found the Texan born actor in the backwaters of Louisiana, as an runaway convict under the direction of Jeff Nichols. Now, as 2013 comes to a close McConaughey is returning to the screen in Dallas Buyers Club, the Jean-Marc Vallée picture which centers on the true-to-life tale of homophobic & drug addicted party boy Ron Woodroof, as he has just been diagnosed with HIV and given only 30 days to live.
For survival, Woodroof begins smuggling & self-prescribing anti-viral meds from all over the world in hopes of finding a suitable filler in sustaining and (hopefully) prolong his life. When such a discovery is found, other AIDS patients seek out Woodroof’s concoction (most of which is made up of high doses of vitamins and minerals) by forgoing hospitals, doctors and AZT. To help bolster the Black Marketed drugs, doctor Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), and fellow AIDS patient Rayon (Jared Leto), help Woodroof create a membership club to which our film takes its name. Woodroof’s club is one of a dozen others in the mid-80’s which were formed to hep those willing to go against the grain with alternatives to the treatment options of HIV/AIDS to gain the valuable meds they needed – the trouble is, Uncle Sam and the FDA found out.
On a whole, Dallas Buyers Club is evocative & swift with pacing that keeps action moving but doesn’t fall prey to the traditional true-to-life film model of over-story expansion & exposition. Relationships lay out fairly straightforward in concise & important moments in this Craig Borten & Melissa Wallack screenplay, while the action stays far from stagnant. There is a thickness here in the writing and a ingrained drama that comes through effortlessly – audiences will feel the plight of every character on screen without feeling cheapened or diluted & more importantly, we don’t get served the overwrought piousness which many of these type of films can bring.
What is displayed however is a moving, cut/dry life story that is more affecting than eye rolling. In fact, if there is anything missing here it may just be the film’s view on the larger AIDS movement as DBC’s last two acts become a insularly-focused slice-of-life picture on Woodroof, which isn’t to say that other buyers’ clubs & advocacy groups don’t show face from time-to-time, but they are giving very little attention.
As a man refusing to accept the way life is, McConaughey comes to Dallas Buyers Club with a unpredictable ferocity to Woodroof that can’t be ignored & makes for certainly one of the actor’s best roles to date. The Killer Joe alumni brings a commitment of 38 pounds of weight loss, seduction and selfishness that won’t get passed up easily come Oscar time – it’s a tell sign that an actor is doing something right if a film can still display a sizzling flourish by way of its main character literally wasting away, vis-à-vis Steve McQueen’s Hunger.
For Jared Leto, a poignant role here as pre-op transsexual Rayon comes close to stealing the spotlight from the DBC’s star & is all due to the actor’s talent moreso than the border-lined stereotyped & dismally suffering queen character on the page. The musician-actor Leto, offers audiences a perceptive & smartly fragile view into a character that can see his demise long before the closing credits, and still manages to give a persuasive portrayal in nature. Other key roles are well played by Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Dallas Roberts, Michael O’Neill, Steve Zahn, and Griffin Dunne.
Primarily due to his previous outings being comprised of TV series and foreign affairs, Jean-Marc Vallée previous feature-length (C.R.A.Z.Y.) was a darling among critics, even garnering a very seldomly-seen 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, but barely made a blip on the radar of many domestic film-watchers outside the Independent circles. Here with Dallas Buyers Club, Vallée displays a sincere honesty that the real-life story deserves by shooting mostly in a near-documentary style to give an immediate & amplified sensibility of character moments at all times. John Paino’s production design is lyrical in approach but gritty in execution of an Reagan-era, Dallas metro setting that is covered in a layer of dirt, sex & cheap beer. Sound design is used sparingly and then only through on-camera efforts only making for an engrossing environment.
Overall, Dallas Buyers Club is an extraordinarily well-handled film that is smart, pivotal & one of 2013’s most well-applauded efforts in the Independently-produced realms of Hollywood – lets just hope that everyone takes notice come this February. Rating: A
The Dallas Buyer’s Club opens November 1st. Watch the trailer here.