I have become jaded by the multitude of movies that
purport to be true, but even allowing for some dramatic license, the story of
Ron Woodroof and the Dallas Buyers Club is pretty amazing. Although it has
taken twenty-some years to reach the screen, it’s been made with such care and
commitment that I’d say it’s been worth the wait.
Matthew McConaughey has already given one great performance
this year in Mud. He tops himself
with this portrayal of a homophobic Texas good ol’ boy who is diagnosed as HIV-positive
in 1985 and becomes an unlikely champion for others who are fighting for their
lives, just like him. The story is more layered and complex than that, but that
summary gives you an indication of the inherent drama in this material,
fashioned as a screenplay by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack and directed by
Hollywood, and the media, love to focus on actors who
undergo physical transformations, so
much has been written about McConaughey’s extreme weight loss and costar Jared
Leto’s appearance as a transsexual. What matters more is the persuasiveness of
their performances. McConaughey thoroughly inhabits his contradictory
character, a crude redneck who’s smart enough to go to the library and read up
about AIDS once he’s diagnosed with the dread disease. Leto is equally
convincing as a patient at the local Dallas hospital who becomes McConaughey’s
trusted ally as he builds an underground business selling drugs and vitamins
smuggled into the country. Other key roles are well played by Jennifer Garner,
Denis O’Hare, Dallas Roberts, Michael O’Neill, Steve Zahn, and Griffin Dunne.
Dallas Buyers Club is
vivid and immediate, a compelling movie as opposed to a well-meaning docudrama.
There is no hint of sanctimoniousness or self-seriousness. It’s a story of outcasts,
outlaws, and a years-long battle with government bureaucracy and medical red
tape. It also reminds us of a terrible period in recent history when an
epidemic swept through our society.
If the director’s name is unfamiliar, that’s because we in
the U.S. don’t get to see enough French-language films from Quebec. Vallée
earned so much (well-deserved) attention for his 2005 film C.R.A.Z.Y. that he got
a job helming a mainstream English-language picture, The Young Victoria. He’s a major talent, and if you haven’t seen
C.R.A.Z.Y. I recommend that you seek it out.