Friday, November 8, 2013

"Dallas Buyers Club" review

In "Dallas Buyers Club," Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a homophobic drug-addicted hustler whose spends his days either working as an electrician or going to the rodeo and his nights partying, having sex, drinking, and/or doing cocaine. When we first meet Ron, he's having his way with two women but he looks noticeably skinny and frail from the get-go. It's not until he has an accident at his day job when he finds out that he's tested positive for HIV. Not only that, but his T-cell count is very, very low and he's given just 30 days to live.

Shocked, angry, in disbelief, Ron initially dismisses such claims, arguing that only homosexuals get HIV/AIDS. But soon, after reading all kinds of AIDS-related material, Ron Woodroof begins to let reality set in and it's the kind of reality that few of us would be able to handle. The fact that he manages to pull himself together and survive for another seven years says a lot about the man. The fact that he's successfully able to smuggle unapproved drugs into the US and provide an entire Dallas community with these drugs----prolonging people's lives in the process---says even more about him.

But what's remarkable about the movie is the way the filmmakers refuse to paint Ron Woodroof as an absolute hero. While he eventually begins to soften up his view of homosexuals, as he supplies them with drugs (and profits off them, mind you), he's still the same hustler he's always been. He's still most interested in the keeping himself alive, first and foremost, as well as making some quick cash in the process. He goes from knowing absolutely nothing about the virus that's been living inside him to flying to Japan, Israel, and Germany in order to find the latest drug that can help. In order to evade drug dealing laws, Ron follows the lead of other cities and creates a "buyers club" in Dallas where people pay $400 to become a member and get the drugs that they need. I read one review where the writer complained that the movie never really lets Ron have a triumphant moment, but I think that's the point. I don't think Ron Woodroof ever realized the importance of what he was doing while he was doing it. He never has this big revelation, or this big change of heart, until the very end.

And really, even his change of heart feels muted and understated. What makes "Dallas Buyers Club" such a powerful film is its understated-ness. There are many times where the film could head into sentimental territory, much like Jonathan Demme's "Philadelphia" which has big emotional moments with Tom Hanks. "Dallas Buyers Club" is almost strictly about this business Ron creates and how this particular man suffers with such a deadly disease. Matthew McConaughey is the perfect man to play this Southern gentleman, but you'll be surprised at how far McConaughey goes here. McConaughey lost 38 pounds to play this role and you can feel his commitment to this character in every scene. He plays Ron with such great balance; he knew that if he ever overplayed his hand, it wouldn't work. He kept the character as consistent as possible from beginning to end, letting the subtlety of this character's growth really stand out instead of pointing out in very big ways.

A big part of why Ron Woodroof begins to soften his stance on homosexuality is his rude introduction to Rayon, played by Jared Leto. Rayon is transgendered, also suffering from the AIDS virus. Rayon has this cool, calm Southern drawl, and while Ron's repulsed by Rayon at first, he can't helped buy be charmed by him. He eventually lets Rayon in on his drug smuggling business because he knows Rayon would be much more successful in getting new clients. What he doesn't realize is how much he'll eventually care about Rayon and how important the mutual support and care they have for each other really is, until it's too late.

This Dallas Buyers Club has created a division among doctors, police, and the FDA. Dr. Eve Saks, played by Jennifer Garner, doesn't think so highly about what Ron's doing at first, but when she realizes how much more effective his drugs are than the FDA-approved AZT drug, she eventually starts to come around. Steve Zahn, who plays a police officer in the film, gets the Dallas police to back off Ron's business practices because Ron's able to supply him with a drug that can help his father's Alzheimer's.

Unfortunately, the FDA, the IRS, and other government organizations keep trying to shut down this buyers club. They have some legitimate reasons, mind you, but the lengths in which they try to go through will anger any viewer. Ultimately, what Ron is doing is helping hundreds of people and the drug approval process that the FDA goes through is so painstakingly slow that it'll kill millions of people before it helps anyone.

What "Dallas Buyers Club" is about is how one man's fight for survival affected an entire community, a community that this man would initially do anything to stay away from. While he still died seven years after his initial diagnosis, Ron Woodroof was able to die having found real purpose in his life. He was able to have some form of redemption even after living a wild lifestyle that rarely allows for such redemption to take place.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee, along with the film's screenwriters, do a fantastic job in finding the right balance to make Ron Woodroof really stand out as three-dimensional character. Matthew McConaughey gives the performance of his life here and makes this film so much more watchable than it already is. He's really become an exciting actor in the last few years, taking on more risky projects, and the most amazing thing is how it all seems so natural for him. You wonder why he spent so many years making formulaic romantic comedies, but now he has the kind of profile and box office clout that allows him to do a movie like this. "Dallas Buyers Club" is understated, yet powerful. The screenplay can be a little too on-the-nose at times and the ending may feel a bit too abrupt, but this is definitely a must-see. If anything else, it's worth it to watch McConaughey (and Jared Leto) give so much of himself to this role. Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof is the type of performance you're not likely to forget long after the movie is over.

Grade: A-

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