Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee
Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Quite the departure from the period drama of The Young Victoria, Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club shows us the evils and dangers of the prominence of the HIV/AIDS virus during the 1980s in America. Vallee’s previous commercial hit was effective in emotions, which translates quite well to his very human storytelling in this almost strange conglomeration of a film. The story itself is a combination of very different characters, coming from very different backgrounds, joined together in a fight to live their lives and interact with each other.

Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) is an electrician in Dallas during the 80s who enjoys women and drugs. He spends his time conning men out of their money at the local rodeo, but when he gets blood work done after a work accident, he is informed he is living with HIV, and has only 30 days to live. There begins his battle to survive, which takes him through a rough departure from his previous life and friends, and into a whole new world of AIDS patients and doctors, including the cross dressing Rayon (Jared Leto), and a caring doctor (Jennifer Garner). In the meantime, Woodruff discovers how cruel the business of medicine can be, so he starts his own, with a mission to improve patient conditions, and save lives.

The character arcs of each character carry the thematic heft of the film from start to finish. As we start along the journey we are met with relationships between men bigoted against homosexuals, between doctor and patient, male and female. There are clear separating lines among all the characters we meet. But once Ron begins his struggle against the dreadful disease the lines become blurred in the struggle. The film’s greatest strength is in its ability to deconstruct human relationships to the point that all that remains in just that, a human relationship.

Gender, sexual orientation, politics, title and social status, none of it matters. In the end we are shown humans, struggling to live their lives and survive or fight the terrible disease. At the forefront of the films ability to effective deliver this touching tale is the central performances. The ensemble cast is one of the best from the previous year and features a powerful turn by Matthew McConaughey, who has recently come across a new found commitment to great work. But even more striking is Jared Leto as Rayon. Coming out of semi-retirement in his acting career from his role as front man for rock band 30 Seconds From Mars, Leto inhabits the character of Rayon, causing our heart to break with his.

Movies like this are often hard to find. What Vallee manages to avoid is being too dependent upon the AIDS virus to draw the sympathy from the audience. It certainly doesn’t hurt, but the characters are beautifully crafted, and exist in a world in which everyone makes mistakes, nobody is perfect. It’s what makes us human. Woodruff begins the film as a fairly unlikable guy, with views and practices that appall. Rayon’s outward confidence masks his inward self-acceptance. These characters are flawed, and dealing with an unfair hand that life has dealt them. The human instincts, the human emotions, the human performances all make for a fairly powerful film.

***1/2 – Great

 

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