Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: Dallas Buyers Club

Image courtesy of Focus Features.
Jean-Marc Vallee's "Dallas Buyers Club" is a pretty gripping portrayal of unlikely AIDS activist Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a hard drinking, drug taking, sexually promiscuous and homophobic rodeo cowboy who finds out circa 1985 that he is HIV positive.

The film provides just the sort of material that would typically scream Oscar bait - and while I'm pretty sure the film will garner its share of awards nominations, Vallee and his terrific cast, which includes some great work from Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner, handle it all tastefully.

In fact, it's pretty difficult to like Woodroof for much of the film until he makes the required transformation later in the film. When we first meet him, he doesn't shy away from throwing out offensive comments about gays and Arabs and acts just about how you'd expect someone who drinks as hard and snorts as much cocaine as he does.

But Woodroof eventually becomes the hero of the story, along with his business partner Rayon (Leto), a sensitive and HIV positive drag queen and Garner's sympathetic doctor. The villain of the story is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which attempts to halt Woodroof's enterprise that involves smuggling AIDS treatments into the country from Mexico, Japan, China and the Netherlands that he then sells to the membership of his Dallas Buyers Club.

The thing is, all of the items Woodroof smuggles in are basically vitamins, which prove to be more effective in his case and those of many others than the FDA-approved AZT. "Dallas Buyers Club" ends up juggling two familiar story lines - that of a flawed individual becoming a better person and the little man against big industry - in this case, the FDA and Big Pharma.

McConaughey is in the middle of a career makeover, from his work last year in "Bernie," "Magic Mike" and "Killer Joe" and, in 2013, his great performances in "Mud" and "Dallas Buyers Club." Later this year, he is appearing in Martin Scorsese's "Wolf of Wall Street." But "Dallas" could be his finest work to date, not just because of the obvious physical demands of the role, but the way that the actor gets into Woodroof's trouble psyche. Leto, who has been missing from screens for a while, is similarly terrific in a role that could have a caricature, but ends up being rather poignant.

"Dallas Buyers Club" tells a pretty remarkable story and does it well. The film's visual style and the script are both solid, but this is a picture that is first and foremost an actors' showcase. Here is an example of a cast truly bringing to life its characters.

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