Review: Dallas Buyers Club (TIFF 2013)
PLOT: The true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a hard-living, homophobic Texan , who learns that he's HIV positive. With AIDS treatment still a mystery in that era (it takes place in 1986), Woodruff takes on the FDA, and manages to bring in medications from all over the world, using himself as a guinea pig. Eventually, he turns it into a thriving business, selling memberships to a buyer's club where members can have all the experimental treatments they want, for a price.
REVIEW: What a difference two years makes. In 2011, when McConaughey came to TIFF with KILLER JOE, he was stuck in the fading romantic leading man rut. His brilliant performance in the hard-as-nails KILLER JOE changed all that, and in the years since, he's re-emerged as one hell of a good actor, with movies like MUD, MAGIC MIKE, BERNIE, and more. As good as he was in all of those, and he was great, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB just may be the best of the bunch.
There's been a lot of buzz about how McConaughey managed to drop an astonishing thirty-eight pounds to play Woodroof, and the result is disturbing. McConaughey really does look like a man dying of AIDS, with his clammy skin, and clothes that hang lifelessly on his ever diminishing frame. If anyone ever thought there was no more to McConaughey than just taking off his shirt in rom-coms, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB will make them eat their words.
But, his performance is about more than just being emaciated. Woodroof is complicated in that he's no hero. He's a coked-up homophobe, who treats people like garbage, and arguably exploits his fellow AIDS patients to get rich, initially turning away people that can't pay to be in his club. Still, there's something heroic about his dogged quest to survive, and by the end of the film you'll no doubt be moved by his complicated, utterly three-dimensional, and real performance.
What's crazy is that McConaughey, who's brilliant, isn't even the best performance in the movie. That honour goes to Jared Leto, who, in the last few years has focused on his band 30 Seconds to Mars. Like McConaughey, he lost weight, dropping thirty pounds to play the transvestite Rayon, who becomes Woodroof's business party. A compassionate figure, Leto will break your heart as Rayon, whose years of dealing with homophobia has made her tough, even able to deal with the exasperating Woodroof. Leto pretty much has to rocket right to the head of the best supporting actor race at this year's Oscars, and it could be a career redefining part for him.
Jennifer Garner also has a strong part as the compassionate doctor who tries to help Woodroof and Rayon, but her part can't help but feel extraneous. She's good, but this just isn't her film. The juiciest small part goes to Griffin Dunne as a non-licenced doctor McConaughey meets in Mexico, and who helps with his treatment.
Like fellow Quebec director Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée- who made a great Quebec movie a few years ago called CRAZY- emerges as a major talent. His direction is subtle, never overwhelming the performances, but it's also powerful and inspired when it needs to be. This style of direction, coupled with the performances, adds up to one hell of a powerful, gritty film that despite it's tear-jerking subject matter, never allows itself to get saccharine for a second. Like Woodroof, the film never wants your pity, and while tears will no doubt be shed while watching it, they're well-earned.
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