Dallas Buyers Club
Review by Jim Reed
I finally saw Dallas Buyers Club at the River Oaks theatre in Houston, stuffed into one of the upstairs screening rooms where I saw foreign films like The Lives of Others (2006), and A Very Long Engagement (2004), so it has a sort of pretentious art-house aura. Dallas Buyers is not art-house cinema, but it works on nearly every level you want a film to work. If one were to create a spreadsheet (and I’m sure someone somewhere has) of the things you would most like to see in this type of film—which I suppose could be considered a bio-pic, though it only covers the most significant events toward the end our hero’s story—then this has it. It features solid character arches, strong performances, appropriate period details, and a darn good story with a wider backdrop and social implications. We like to see intimate, personal stories of people that make a larger social impact. This is precisely that kind of movie.
Dallas Buyers Club is the story of Texas electrician and rodeo bull rider Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and given 30 days to live. He lived seven more years, due in large part to his willingness to find alternative treatment, involving trips all over the world in search of medicine that actually works, but was not FDA approved. With the help of fellow AIDS victim and business partner, Rayon (Jared Leto), provides unapproved, yet highly effective, drugs to others with the virus.
From a technical standpoint there is nothing particularly flashy about the film, and there doesn’t need to be. The story and performances carry the picture throughout. McConaughey is terrific, showing once again, as though his recent string of impressive performances had not, that he is a performer with talent and that certain ability to be the right kind of actor for the right kind of part. Jared Leto, meanwhile, is a revelation! For me, the real strength of Leto’s Oscar-caliber performance is his bare humanity. He and McConaughey both lost considerable weight for their roles, but their emaciated state was not a talking point for the film. The filmmakers relied heavily on the actors’ ability to make human that which we have made alien. Leto gives us a man with deep wounds and longings, yet is never willing to perform to the extremes, always choosing to breathe in the margins, and operate in the grey. He is human in that he doesn’t make himself a victim; he doesn’t need to.
This, I think, is the overall strength of the film—it puts a hand on the shoulder of our common humanity. It welcomes in what we have tried to distance. It erases the lines between “Us” and “Them.” It looks at human beings, facing the loneliness of extraordinary human situations, and reminds us that someone or something is for them. There is a scene of Ron crying alone in his car on the side of a Texas highway, which we realize is something that ordinary people like him go through on a daily basis. There is something about Ron’s story, Rayon’s story, and the stories of all who weep and mourn, that cries out for justice, peace, and comfort. There is a loneliness and injustice to being human that ought not be so, and Dallas Buyers Club reminds us that we do not have to accept either loneliness or injustice.
Directed by Jean Marc-Vallée
Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner