2013 has been a year abnormally bloated with biopics. Jobs, 42, Rush, Kill Your Darlings and a host of others having already been released, and the highly anticipated Saving Mr. Banks slated for release in late December- Dallas Buyers Club proves to be yet another late addition. Astoundingly little press has been generated in support of the film (the first trailers having been released in August) which makes one wonder if word of mouth alone will catapult it to commercial success. In any case, let me get on with this poor excuse for consumer advice and do my part as a cog in the promotional machine.
Canadian filmmaker Jean-Mark Vallée directs this production, centering on the struggle of one Ron Woodroof as he struggles to remedy his HIV and subsequent AIDS infection through the use of non-FDA approved drugs. Interestingly, Vallée seems to have a bit of a penchant for exploring homophobic intolerance in overwhelmingly conservative environments- see his 2005 film C.R.A.Z.Y as a prime example- so the story contained within Dallas Buyers Club seems to be a natural fit in retrospect. The film likewise incorporates some impressive camerawork from cinematographer Yves Bélanger which serves to emphasize Woodroof’s increasingly deteriorating mental and physical health to some degree.
The film stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof and Jared Leto as the drug addled transvestite Rayon, both of whom were charged with losing massive amounts of weight for their respective roles. Many have praised McConaughey for giving the performance of his career, which isn’t particularly saying all that much, though I admit that his talent and physique are both ideal fits for the broken wreck of a man that is Woodroof. McConaughey takes us, with impressive verisimilitude (if you’ll excuse the pretension), through the various stages of coping with his disease, from denial to depression to defiance, and finally to resignation as he wages his war, motivated both by humanistic compassion and the pursuit of a little cash, with the FDA.
The plot, as deceptively simple as it is, does deserve a bit more attention. The film takes place in 1985 at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in America. Ron Woodroof, our homophobic, druggie protagonist is diagnosed with HIV and is given 30 days to live. As his disease develops, he becomes increasingly ostracized by his friends and relations due to the stigma attached to AIDS, at that time, as a “gay” disease. But old Woodroof is a defiant kind of fellow, and travels around the world searching for drugs to ease the symptoms of his illness. Eventually, Woodroof forms what’s known as a buyers club in order to sell his drugs to other victims of HIV/AIDS. Essentially, a buyers club allows and individual to pay a certain amount of money in membership dues to be a part of a club. In exchange, that individual can receive the drugs that they need for free- because selling the drugs is illegal, but giving them away for free is merely frowned upon.
So I’m five paragraphs in and I haven’t really stated whether the film is good or not. Here’s the thing- Dallas Buyers Club is a solid, emotionally compelling movie, but it’s ultimately forgettable. I have a suspicion that the majority of moviegoers will enjoy the film as they sit in the theater, but at the same time it won’t make it on anyone’s ‘top five’ list. Apart from some mild pacing problems (things tend to drag on in parts), there’s nothing that’s really glaringly wrong here, but on the other hand, I can’t really point to Dallas Buyers Club as a paragon of contemporary filmmaking either. If this film is to be remembered years from now, it will be for bringing into interesting relief a particularly dark time in the history of the US, and not for its acting, plot, or technical execution. And perhaps that might be enough, but only time will tell.
Rating: 4 out of 5