Review: “Dallas Buyers Club” delivers outstanding acting and storytelling
by Gavin Libbey
Published February 27, 2014
What would you do if you were told you have 30 days until a deadly disease kills you? This question is the centerpiece and story behind director Jean-Marc Vallée’s Oscar-nominated film “Dallas Buyers Club.” The film is a compelling and moving view into the world of AIDS victims in the 1980s, when the population was still uninformed and scared of the virus, and features some of the best performances of the year by lead Matthew McConaughey and supporting actor Jared Leto, who are both nominated for Oscars.
The film is set in Dallas, Texas, as the name implies, in 1985. For the unfortunate victims of the virus, times were rough. The homophobic climate of America and the connotation between gays and AIDS led to a horrible stigma against both homosexuals and AIDS victims. There was no cure and nearly a million had been infected. Enter Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a straight, conservative, blue-collar bigot which an affinity for rodeos, hard drugs and women. Thanks to his daring lifestyle choices, he contracts AIDS and is told he has only 30 days left to live. There’s little chance of receiving the single possible treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration. With the help of Rayon (Jared Leto), a transvestite AIDS victim, Ron chooses to spend the time he’s given to help other victims, pioneer a change in policy towards treatments and make a little cash at the same time.
The story is a refreshing tale with a familiar ring. Many stories with the similar set up of a man given limited time left to live and loose ends to tie up decide to go the route of vengeance or living the carpe diem lifestyle, but “Dallas Buyers Club” depicts a real hero and a real story about someone who devoted his ending life to make a change. In the film, AIDS is not the only villain as Rom takes on the FDA and their experimental, dangerous treatment AZT. It’s an important element which makes the film much more interesting and authentic.
The star of the film is the best part. McConaughey puts on a powerful performance of a powerful character. In the beginning of the film, Ron is a homophobic, sexist jerk who cares for little besides himself, his cocaine and his many women. His character arc is satisfying and inspiring, and the transformation he makes is clear, both emotionally and physically. McConaughey lost nearly 50 pounds for his role as the sick, emaciated AIDS victim, and it’s shocking to see him so unhealthily thin. In fact, many of the other actors portraying AIDS victims, including McConaughey’s co-star Leto, lost weight for their roles, and it makes the characters and story far more authentic and emotional.
On the note of McConaughey’s co-star, Leto steals the show in every scene he’s in. It’s humorous at first to see the former singer-songwriter in heavy makeup and a dress, but Leto immediately shows that his character isn’t just a joke. Rayon’s role sways often between comedic and dramatic. At time’s he’s funny in his interactions with Ron, who is clearly uncomfortable around him at first, but then he shifts to a tragic character, and demands the audience’s sympathy. Unfortunately, his arc is less pronounced or notable than Ron’s. Rayon doesn’t evolve as much as desired, but is still a great addition to the story.
Besides McConaughey and Leto, the rest of the cast performs well, too. No one else stands out like the two stars, though, even the female lead Jennifer Garner, who plays a doctor and Ron’s somewhat unnecessary romantic interest. A lot of the opposing characters seem like “kick-the-puppy” bad guys when they realize Ron has AIDS, calling him derogatory names and abandoning him and the other AIDS victims, but the depiction isn’t inaccurate to the real life social climate regarding AIDS back in the 80’s. However, in the end, even some of the ignorant enemies of Ron change their ways.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is worth seeing just for the actor’s stunning performances, but the compelling story behind their characters helps. McConaghey and Leto are nominated for Oscars for Actor in a Leading Role and Actor in a Supporting Role, respectively, and both are definitely contenders for the golden statue. The film is also nominated for Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hairstyling and Best Original Screenplay. It’s a great story and view into the world of AIDS in the 1980’s, and will make you feel a range of emotions throughout the film.
Dallas Buyers Club
2 hours, 57 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner