Emotionally gripping, owing mostly to three award-worthy performances, Dallas Buyer’s Club is high quality.
As Ron Woodruff, Matthew McConaughey is captivating. Nevermind his physical transformation (such things typically underwhelm me). Focus instead on the way McConaughey disappears into the character, finding Woodruff’s humanity even when spouting racial epithets and homophobic curses. Focus also on the subtlety with which the actor captures Woodruff’s denial upon first hearing his diagnosis, his intense anger at those who socially ostracize him, and his selfish altruism. We almost forget we’re watching an A-List star, and it’s not primarily because McConaughey looks so different. It’s because he becomes Ron Woodruff, on an emotional level. The southern actor is on a tremendous three-year run of powerful performances, but this is his best thus far. He delivers one of the most memorable performances of 2013.
Jared Leto plays Rayon with similar intensity, and is equally compelling. Leto never overacts, never presents Rayon as more or less than a flawed and sympathetic human being. He also owns Dallas Buyer’s Club’s most heart-wrenching scene, when he sees his father. Leto will deserve whatever award recognition he receives.
So will Jennifer Garner (Dr. Eva Saks), even if she is overshadowed by her male co-stars. She plays the understated straight-man, as it were, to McConaughey’s and Leto’s scene stealing attention grabbers, and she does so flawlessly. She owns the film’s second most heart wrenching scene, when she unthinkingly takes a hammer to her drywall.
Director Jean Marc-Vallee lights his film naturally, reducing reliance on artificial and stylized techniques. The camera moves minimally, allowing actors to capture emotion and scene. Point of view and establishing shots give us the same sense of setting and/or emotion Dallas Buyer’s Club’s characters experience. And so forth. Unlike Baz Luhrmann, Marc-Vallee knows when to get out of the way, when to let someone or something else be the star.
Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallick draft a screenplay with multi-dimensional characters and a timeless theme; the impact money has on policy-makers is as relevant today as it was in the 1980s.
The film does have some minor flaws, however. Given that AZT has helped thousands of people, as stated in a pre-credit summary, Dallas Buyer’s Club might have done well to spend less time villainizing the drug.
Moreover, Borten, Wallick and Marc-Vallee would have been smart to somehow contextualize the rest of AIDS advocacy. The filmmakers hint that other buyer’s clubs existed, but they do not draw attention to myriad 1980s activists working to aid patients of this terrible disease. In so doing, they herofy Ron Woodruff too much, making him feel more historically significant than he probably was.
Even still, Dallas Buyer’s Club is an award-worthy and powerful film. I highly recommend it.