Thursday, January 2, 2014

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

Written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Where & When: AMC Livonia 20, Livonia, MI. December 2, 2013 10:35 PM


"Dallas Buyers Club" is set in the early days of the AIDS epidemic (which was then referred to as a "gay disease") where a passive U.S. government displayed no sense of urgency in helping the victims as their inaction seemed to imply that these undesirables brought this plaque upon themselves. The film tells the little known story of Ron Woodroof, a narrow-minded, skirt-chasing Texan cowboy who discovers that he has developed full-blown AIDS and only given about thirty days to survive. Not one to back away from a challenge, Woodroof went on a one-man mission to prolong his life by researching the virus and traveling across the globe to get his hands on potential experimental drugs that were long from being approved by the FDA.

"Dallas" is competently directed by Canadian filmmaker, Jean-Marc Vallée but it's greatest strength is in it's performances which is lead by a barely recognizable Matthew McConaughey. The usually bronzed, herculean actor appears here scary-thin and plays Woodroof with redneck gusto. This is another departure for McConaughey who had become a staple of the uninspired romantic comedy (with Kate Hudson usually by his side) but has seemed to have left that far behind as proven by his varied recent roles in "Bernie", "Killer Joe" and this year's "Mud". He's been challenging himself as well as audiences by giving them an opportunity to see him as more than a bongo-playing good ole' boy. As Rayon, the transgendered AIDS patient who connects Woodroof to desperate gay purchasers of the alternative drugs, Jared Leto (who has been enjoying success as a rock musician with his band, Thirty Seconds To Mars) returns to acting and gives a fierce and committed performance as he also dropped thirty pounds for the role.

When we first see Woodroof, you immediately sense that something is not quite right due to his cadaverous appearance. However, that doesn't prevent him from continuing to party hard with drugs and women. After collapsing and ending up in a hospital, Woodroof is informed of his illness by a couple of doctors who are surprised he's still alive but are not optimistic of him making it to the end of the month. The cowboy manages to surpass that timeline which impresses one of the physicians, the comely Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner) and offers AZT, an effective but highly toxic drug currently approved for use. Unwilling to accept this only option, he travels to Mexico where an exiled American doctor (Griffin Dunne) informs him about a safer medication and Woodroof smuggles large quantities across the border.

Always looking for a way to make a fast buck, he creates a membership club where patients pay a fee for the illegal drugs but has difficulty connecting to his main customer base; gay men. That's where the sassy, Rayon comes in and upon their first meeting, Woodroof is repulsed by everything that she represents yet they soon form a bond and business partnership as he finds a fellow frightened soul fighting to survive beneath the wigs and heels that he can relate with. Another obstacle is U.S. law-enforcement which is determined to stop Woodroof from bringing unapproved medication in to the country and distributing them.

"Dallas Buyers Club" is an effective, serviceable affair but it never really draws you in completely. Part of the problem is our leading protagonist. He's supposed to be the emotional center of the film yet he represents the most unappealing aspects in a human being; racist, homophobic, and misogynistic and while he eventually softens his views and inadvertently responsible for helping many people as well as forcing the government to put a fast track on approving experimental drugs, Woodroof still doesn't offer much to root for.What the character lacks in likability, it's more than made up with plenty of charisma and with the affable Mr McConaughey in place, Woodroof is easily able to charm the pants off (sometimes literally) everyone who crosses his path. Despite a strong script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and compelling camera work from Yves Bélanger, the director is unable to elevate this intimate film from standard biopic fare .What "Dallas Buyers Club" has going for it is the amazing, solid work of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto as they touch us deeply while their characters struggle to live out what's left of their lives with courage and dignity.