I had zero interest in watching Dallas Buyers Club.
Let’s face it, a super skinny Matthew McConaughey being all ornery and intense? I had that experience already when it was Christian Bale in The Machinist.
And this is a story about the HIV-infected in mid 1980s America. Not exactly uplifting material, no?
So I was resistant. Up until the first few minutes of the film, and then I was hooked.
Dallas Buyers Club is real grip-you-by-the-throat filmmaking. Peopled with interesting characters, it stomps hard on the rewind button into the not-so-distant past when the fear, the confusion, and even the greed that was rampant at that time made life really scary for all parties involved; information was scarce and people were getting infected like it was a zombie outbreak.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée working off a script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack really sucked me in. Into a narrative about a man named Ron Woodroof who is just the Screenwriting 101 epitome of an unlikeable character. [Side note: they can teach you about this type of character in all the writing classes in the world but they cannot help you write one.] When a character like this appears on the page I can imagine most actors worth their salt begin chomping at the bit to play him.
There are aspects about filmmaking that I had feared lost forever – like editing and sound design – that in this film just take the whole experience to another level. Remember when movies filled us with wonder? It was the 90s when that used to happen more frequently. These days we are supposed to receive our cinematic wonder from multiple movies in which cities are shattered, so I don’t blame you if you don’t recall.
Mr. McConaughey, and Mr. Leto deliver performances that seem less like performances and more like individuals crawling into, and inhabiting, the skin of another person. Rayon as played by Mr. Leto is a beguiling mix of affection, sass, and a person battling demons too fearsome for others to comprehend. And Mr. McConaughey is just so powerful as Woodroof, you are never doubtful that the man’s rage is what fuels the frail-seeming individual in the ill-fitting clothes and the cowboy hat to take on men bigger, and stronger, and healthier than himself. In the way he conducts himself, Ron Woodroof reminds us that life is no picnic where every participant has special treats written to his or her name. We have to fight for everything we get, first to earn it, and then to keep it.
We might live in superficially civilized times.
But it’s a jungle out there.
Final Analysis: Everyone involved has done a superlative job. I hope Mr. Vallée has many more such movies in him.
My Advice: Come for the characters, stay for the filmmaking. In a movie about a reality as depressing as the one about the AIDS epidemic in the mid 80s, this is a powerful, even uplifting motion picture.