Dallas Buyer’s Club

Dallas Buyers Club

  • 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.
  • Final Grade: A-
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16 thoughts on “Dallas Buyer’s Club

  1. Great review James! Glad to hear that McConaughey disappears into the character, as like you said, sometimes the physical transformation actually distracts you from seeing him in character.

    • Thanks. I think the physical transformation was pretty unnecessary, honestly. He would have pulled off this role even without it.

      Leto’s transformation wasn’t all that essential, either. Though it certainly didn’t hurt.

  2. Excellent review. I will definitely look into this at some stage. McConaughey is a talented actor and has progressed in leaps and bounds over the years.

  3. Nicely summed up man. I really have trouble deciding who was more incredible here, McConaughey or Leto. This really was one of the better offerings of 2013. Should factor into my end-of-year list in perhaps multiple ways. We shall see. 😀

    • There’s a good chance of it. I think his co-star in this one has an even better supporting turn (in Mud), but since McConaughey would be slated as Best Actor for that role and since he’ll almost assuredly be nominated in that category for Dallas Buyer’s Club, Mud will go unrecognized.

      And after that no likely-to-be considered role surpasses Leto. I figure his prime competition will be Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips (especially now that SAG and the Globes have nominated him).

  4. I want to see this one really badly! But my boyfriend doesn’t go in for the more dramatic stuff so much. He’s more of an action/comedy guy. I’m going to see it the very second I can rent it on a night that I’ve got some alone time, and therefore the benefit of picking the movie I want without a fuss! I love your style of review.

    • Thanks.

      And your curiosity is likely to be piqued by the Oscars, as well. McConaughey and Leto are both very likely to receive nominations. In my opinion, Garner deserves it as well. I doubt all three get nominations, but I’d guess two do.

      Right now, Leto appears to be the favorite for victory at both ceremonies (Globes and Oscar). Enough time has to pass that could certainly change, though.

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