Usually, I’m all for Matthew McConaughey to take his shirt off (see: every other McConaughey movie), but not in this case. His body is emaciated almost beyond recognition – think Christian Bale in The Machinist – and it takes a while to get used to looking at his seemingly elongated body. Once your eyes adjust and settle into the movie though, buckle up, because this bull wants to buck.
McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a cowboy hat toting, womanizing electrician who gets diagnosed with AIDS and is told he only has 30 days to live. An obvious blow to the homophobe, who curses out his doctors on his way out of the hospital. Woodroof may have a short temper, but you learn he is no fool. He puts his head into books to learn about the disease and acclimates himself with the medications an AIDS patient could use and becomes a savvy businessman.
And loopholes. He loves loopholes. His idea of The Dallas Buyers Club is innovative and he is able to circumvent the law. Woodroof doesn’t sell drugs, as he professes numerous times, he sells memberships, and with those memberships come free drugs.
The Dallas Buyers Club becomes a safe haven for AIDS patients. A safer place to come to to talk about their issues. However, this safe haven eventually becomes too large and takes away patients from Mercy Hospital, which causes a stir and is how the Club becomes no more.
But this is not a story about the suits winning over a scrappy Woodroof, it is a story about living life and not being afraid; oh, and sticking it to the man (a Woodroof favorite). Woodroof does not come off as intelligent, but he surprises you time and time again with his ideas. None more poignant than when he brings drugs from Mexico dressed as a priest. Throughout the film, Woodroof is constantly preaching. Never a man of god, but he is a man of faith. He believes in his science, even if the medication he takes is not FDA approved. It works. He is able to live nearly seven years after his initial 30 day diagnosis. A remarkable feat for this scrappy Texan.
But how true is this story? How Woodroof befriends a man in drag, and woos a doctor? How much did he stand up to the law? It is similar to another fall released movie: Captain Phillips, which had some noticeable discrepancies from the true events. However, the “facts” are not an issue for me (in either movie for that matter). This is film. It is meant to entertain, not to educate (even though at times I did feel as though I was learning). And boy, Dallas Buyers Club is top notch entertainment, so damned be the facts.
The execution of this film is impeccable. Director Jean-Marc Vallée is able to capture an enduring human spirit in Matthew McConaughey that is remarkable. His soul is poured out of his scrawny frame. He fears death, which is the sole reason for his life, and comes close to the reaper on several occasions.
Matthew McConaughey lost significant weight for Dallas Buyers Club, but does some heavy lifting with his acting, as he gives a stirring and moving performance; one that will surely get strong Oscar buzz. But the performances of Jared Leto – as Rayon, a man in drag – and Jennifer Garner – a doctor who sees the truth of what Woodroof is doing – are both superb. Leto especially, who, like McConaughey, lost some significant weight for this role. Don’t be surprised if Leto’s name appears on the Oscar ballot as well, under the Best Supporting Actor category.
Dallas Buyers Club is a gem of a film. It has a distinct feel and tone. It preaches, but does not push. It has a viewpoint and agenda, but neither overwhelm you. Instead, you become swept up by the acting and the story and become personally invested in the dilemma at hand. You root for Woodroof in a strange way. He is not the most outstanding character, but you appreciate the change he goes through and how he handles what is definitely a difficult problem. The depiction of AIDS is a brave topic to tackle for any filmmaker, but Vallée handles it with grace. For my money, Dallas Buyers Club is one of the best movies of the year and would be a worthy nomination for Best Picture.