CRITIQUED: DALLAS BUYERS CLUB

Some stories just need to be told.
The AIDS phenomenon has gotten needed exposure over the last three-plus decades in popular culture, in film, song and stage—the 1985 film Buddies, critically acclaimed stage production Rent in 1996 (and its 2005 movie adaptation), “Streets of Philadelphia,” Bruce Springsteen’s award-winning original song from 1993 film Philadelphia, 2007 nonfiction book 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa—and these are only a few of the amazing and heartfelt stories depicting the harsh reality of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

But the story of Ron Woodroof was a labor of love for Matthew McConaughey, and did it ever show in Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club. For what is sure to be an award-winning performance, McConaughey immersed himself in the struggle of a desperate, determined and dying AIDS victim in 1980’s America—no easy time to endure the debilitating disease in the wake of stereotypes, stigmas and ignorance about it. You may not agree with his methods, you may argue his ideals, but one thing you couldn’t do—and what McConaughey refused to let you do—was ignorethe heart and sheer will of a man at the end of a very frail rope.

Admittedly, it was hard to watch his performance at times, a complete departure from the virile, chiseled specimen we’ve come to appreciate in prior films like SaharaHow to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and one of our all-time favorites Dazed and Confused (McConaughey’s first feature film). But recent roles of his, notably in BernieKiller JoeMagic Mike and Mud, have shown viewers a range and dexterity in his performances no one thought he’d reach. The culmination of that journey was indeed found here withDallas Buyers Club. He finally found a role that allowed him the canvas to grow and blossom into an artist and not just a pretty face who could ‘act good’. Charlize Theron did it in Monster; Sean Penn did the same with Milk. And in 2014, Matthew McConaughey will, in our opinion, exercise his Oscar demons with this film.
As for the movie itself, the best thing about Dallas Buyers Club is its simplicity. It was 1985 after all, when love was still free and petrol was less than a dollar a gallon. For most adults the only way to survive was to hustle, and Ron Woodroof was a hustler’s hustler. This is what made the story plausible—Woodroof kept the solution simple, no matter how complicated his journey became. He set things in motion that now have become part of the AIDS lexicon. He helped force government to view the situation differently than they were before, and he did it big, as only a Texan could.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention another potential Oscar-winning performance. Jared Leto was flawless as Rayon, a cross-dressing AIDS patient who goes into business with Woodroof and is the clear conscience of the film. Jennifer Garner was solid as well, but didn’t contribute nearly as fierce as the two lead actors. McConaughey and Leto clearly lead the pack for Oscar gold this year, as they both have already won Golden Globe and SAG awards for their performance. But more importantly than that, they provide a voice to the AIDS story that’s worth its own weight in gold.
Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club.

 

Dallas Buyers Club is now available on demand, Blu-ray and DVD.

UPDATE: Dallas Buyers Club took home major awards on Oscar Sunday, winning on three of  the six nominated categories: Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and the two top acting categories – Best Supporting Actor for Jared Leto and Best Leading Actor went to Matthew McConaughey. Recap our coverage of this film and all the other winners in hapless geek’s 2014 Oscar Wrap-Up here.

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