Next up on our agenda is Dallas Buyers Club, one of the top winners at many of the recent award shows. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, it stars Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner. It is rated R for explicit language, strong sexual content, nudity and drug use.
In 1985 Dallas, electrician and bull rider Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) lives a life full of smoking, drugs, sex and alcohol. The racist, homophobic Woodroof, after a work accident, discovers that he has HIV, and that he has 30 days to live. Ron, initially in denial, desperately searches for drugs that will keep him alive. With his transsexual business partner, Rayon (Leto), they smuggle drugs for the hundreds of others with HIV in Texas, forming the ‘Dallas Buyers Club’, in which they supply drugs to those who need them. Woodroof, with the FDA watching his every move, attempts to enjoy life under the most unlikeliest of circumstances.
7.5 out of 10
I’ve seen Dallas Buyers Club labeled the underdog of this year’s award season—which was originally hard to believe considering it has won pretty much every Lead Actor and Supporting Actor role out there—but after watching it, I can understand why. It does not have too much that may entice an audience on first glance. Hell, it’s a movie about AIDS and cowboys, What is there to be excited about if you’re an everyday moviegoer? It lacks the visual appeal of Gravity and the star power of American Hustle. There isn’t one thing that appeals to you before you’ve seen it. And really, there is nothing that stands out to you after you have seen it as well, except maybe the acting, which is one of the huge reasons that I did not fall in love with it like seemingly many others did.
I will start off with the bright spots of this film. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are both fantastic. More so Leto, who delivers one of the most genuine, interesting, and complex performances I have seen in a long time. I recently watched an featurette in which he discussed how he had to wax his entire body for the role and how he really created a whole new person for the role. He sees Rayon as an actual person, which is what drives him to such success. Imagine a world in which people always picked roles exclusively for the characters and not for the money (I’m looking at you 2000s Robert DeNiro). Rayon is such an extremely difficult character to portray, and Leto did it with so much energy and ultimately delivered a performance for the ages.
Then there’s McConaughey, who also did very well. Yes, his 50 pounds weight loss may not have been Christian Bale esque, but no one can argue that he lacked the cockiness and imperfection that the character of Ron Woodroof required. Woodroof is no hero; he’s just a man fighting for his life. He is not a good guy, to put it straight. And yet McConaughey still made us love him, the asshole he is.
Another thing I can commend this film for is its makeup design. I’ve said before that Hollywood makeup artists and costume designers are among the most overlooked people in the business, and its transformations such as Leto to Rayon that make me realize this. Fantastic job by the makeup department.
Otherwise, I couldn’t tell you what I really loved about this film. I was impressed by McConaughey and awed by Leto, but the movie as a whole just didn’t resonate with me. There were parts where the story became excessive and extremely hard to follow, which really irritated me. Without a direct way of telling the story, it was up to the message and moral of the story to impress us, which is never a safe bet. Luckily, Leto and McConaughey provided the film with meaning. But here we are again, and these two actors are the main point of my discussion. Everything else was good but not great. None of the camera work stood out to me, nor did the direction. Both of these could have helped this film tremendously if they had been more than just ‘fine’.
There really isn’t anything necessarily bad about this film, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly interesting beyond the two leading actors. Without them, the film would have fallen apart. Fortunately, the revivals of both McConaughey and Leto allow this film to be unique, interesting, and the solid Oscar contender that it became.
8.5 out of 10
NOTE: Best Picture scale! Get used to it!
Generally, at least half of the Best Picture nominees are extremely clever ideas. But what separates them from those hundreds of other clever movies besides the piles of money or lack thereof sitting behind them? Usually, they’re really simple ingenious ideas that manage to take up a whole movie in some sort of perfect storm.
Take The Descendants from a couple of years ago or even Nebraska from this year. Both have very short ideas but are so well constructed that they’re able to pull out a ton of themes from a what could have been a one-note idea.
Dallas Buyers Club is definitely one of those movies. It’s a simple, raw idea that is really carried by its own actors into notoriety. Does it deal with some pretty heavy themes? Yes. Actually 100x yes. Is it like Philadelphia except with a Cowboys player? No. But its just as emotionally effective.
Let’s get back to the actors, the real stars of this movie. Matthew McConaughey gets a pretty darn bad rap which I probably don’t have a right to commentate on given that I haven’t seen Failure to Launch or How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (But if I’ve seen one of those, haven’t I seen the other?). However, I feel like if one were to take the last couple of years into account, McCounaughey is pretty high tier actor. He has really proven he can act side by side with some real heavy hitters and maybe he’ll one day become a heavy hitter himself.
Because in Dallas Buyers Club, he gives the plot traction. He takes a character that could have been boisterous nuisance and puts some depth in there that gives the film some heart. If you really wanted to, you could see this whole plot as a guy who betrays his morals but its almost certainly about tolerance and accepting others (While still managing to squeeze some humor out of the topic as well).
Speaking of humor, there’s also Jared Leto, who plays a transgender character. That’s definitely an idea that could have been ripe for mistakes and cheap moments if played wrong (And it could have easily been played wrong) but its something the movie takes very seriously because it wants you to take it seriously. It’s Hollywood being mature and it’s Jared Leto, who gets props for accepting a role that probably looked terrifying on paper.
Then there’s the problem of pacing. I’ve probably said this before but pacing is a really underrated quality that is very hard to work out through the entire movie-making process. Unfortunately, here, it does suffer from a somewhat simple premise and it can get a little repetitive.
But that’s what actors are for! They take scenes that drag or drudge and speed them along. Luckily, they’re all up to the task here.
And so, another Best Picture movie comes and goes and its yet another one I’d highly recommend. Do I think it will win? No (12 Years a Slave or Gravity would be my guess since the Academy loves a little publicity). But absolutely check it out. With Leto and McConaughey around, you won’t regret it.
Bonus Video: The previously mentioned featurette on Jared Leto
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%