Review: Dallas Buyers Club
Diagnosed with HIV in 1986, Ron Woodroof is given 30 days to live. While infirmed, Woodroof scrambles to find drugs that will prolong his life, and when he discovers that what can help him isn’t being supplied by a hospital, he stocks up and sells them to those in need. In the process, Woodroof is ostracized by his former friends, making new acquaintances in a culture he long shunned.
Matthew McConaughey gives a stellar performance as Texan Ron Woofroof, while Jared Leto disappearances as his later colleague and friend Rayon. Jennifer Garner plays a Dallas nurse, and she is well, recognizable.
For all its gritty atmosphere, incredibly dedicated performances, and emotional tension, Dallas Buyers Club is still too a bit simplistic and convenient. Matthew McConaughey, skeletal and nearly unrecognizable, gives a tremendous show as Ron Woodroof, a man who, because he becomes diagnosed as HIV-positive, slowly changes his views of homosexuals for he himself begins to experience bigotry and discrimination.
So, what previous films such as The Help, 42, and The Blindside have done with race relations, Dallas Buyers Clubs does with homosexuality, albeit with more dedication, style, and effectiveness. Dallas in the 1980s does not come across as the most wholesome and clean town there is; from sun-soaked streets to darkened smoke-filled rooms, every environment, save for the fluorescent hospital that is uncomfortable in its own way, feels sweaty and thick.
In essence, though, it’s a story about personal growth and acceptance of a culture that was regularly chastised and misunderstood. We first meet Woodruff having sex with two women underneath the risers at a bull fighting ring while a show is going on. A somewhat savvy electrician, Woodroof makes money as a bookie too, though none too successfully. A drinker, a gambler, a drug addict, and a womanizer, Woodroof isn’t especially fond of the gays, until he acquired a disease associated with them.
McConaughey is indeed brilliant, simultaneously captivating and revolting. Mustachioed and grotesquely skinny, his performance will likely be lauded in the coming months (just another great one in a string during this so-called McConaissance), as Jared Leto’s should as well.
He disappears as Rayon, a transgender AIDS patient who befriends Woodroof during treatment. Desperately searching for treatment after being given just thirty days to live, Woodroof finds salvation in alternative healing and medicine that isn’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but that is perfectly legal and seemingly curative.
Woodroof and Rayon team up to provide drugs for patients, making some money, and constantly battling against pharmaceutical companies (the anti-establishment message runs throughout the second half of the film). Woodroof’s transition, from anti-gay cowboy to sympathetic crusader is slow and steady, a rather standard path from confusion and anger towards acceptance and courage.
To be sure, Dallas Buyers Club is incredibly well made and executed. It is a quality film led by an incomparable performance, but that doesn’t mean that the message and meaning that follows is as strong; it’s easily confused for understanding and progress. Reluctantly, the story is conventional and melodramatic, lacking nuance or depth.
That’s after the fact, though. While you’re in it, McConaughey and Leto are gripping, while Jean-Marc Vallee’s paces well a story that takes place over months and years. He even throws in some lighter moments, as laughter becomes a brief respite during a fated, disconcerting journey. Perhaps not as important as audiences will be led to believe, Dallas Buyers Club is less about story and more about the process, doing what you can with the time you have.
Should You See It?
Watch it, experience it, and talk about it after – and get on board the McConaissance!