The aids crisis of the 1980’s was a tragic period in American history, and Dallas Buyers Club is a movie that really shines light on all the problems that arose from the crisis. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto, the film tells the incredible story of Ron Woodroof, who when diagnosed with aids, does everything he can to survive as long as he can. Even when the FDA tries to stop him. Watch the trailer after the jump and then read my review.
I really didn’t know a lot about this movie before I saw it and so I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked it. A big part of that was how fascinating of a character Ron Woodroof is. He is a man who is a racist, homophobe, drunk and cocaine user. But when he finds out he is HIV+ and does some research, he discovers the drugs offered in the hospital don’t work, but protein and other supplements he can get in Mexico do. So he makes a business out of it and turns his whole life around. That is an inspirational story.
McConaughey is a big part of why Woodroof is such a great character. He is sickly skinny but somehow charming. And determined. You could tell McConaughey was very invested in the character and he has earned all the accolades he has received. Everything from his moustache to his accent, no small detail in this performance is missed. It’s an impressive performance that is needed for an important story like this.
Visually, there was a lot of detail in the look and feel of this world. The colours feel very nostalgic, like this movie was made in the era it takes place. And the costumes replicate that too, especially the suits worn by McConaughey and the dresses worn by Leto. The attention to detail is not important in a drama like this, which relies on the dialogue more than anything, but is noticeable. Director Jean-Marc Vallée wanted to do this story justice visually and he does.
But the star of this movie is far and away Leto as Rayon, a cross-dresser and aids patient. It is frightening how good Leto is in this one. He will easily win the best supporting Oscar because no one else comes close to the level of commitment he brings to this role. There is a fine line when playing a character like this, it can either be obvious he is a man or too over the top the other way on the feminine side. Somehow, Leto finds a balance. Rayon is both a quick talker and a sweet, feminine man. There is one scene where he confronts his father that basically sums up the whole character, in one tragic conversation. Some research revealed Rayon is a fictional character, but without him, the film would have been missing an important counterbalance to the money scheming and homophobic Woodroof. The friendship and business partnership between the two is the most important part of this movie and Leto and McConaughey both give the performances of their careers to make it work.
The movie isn’t perfect though. My biggest complaint is Garner’s character of Eve, a doctor who sympathizes with Woodroof. Like Rayon, she is fictional, but unlike Rayon, she seems to be only there to give someone for Woodroof to flirt with. She really does nothing, always saying her job at the hospital prevents her from helping him in any meaningful way. It is just an unnecessary role altogether. Michael O’Neill and Denis O’Hare play the primary antagonists who try to shut down Woodroof’s operation and their characters are also poorly written, often staring Woodroof down until he walks away in anger. They are so ignorant of him it is almost unbelievable and it would have been nice if their motives for trying to stop Woodroof was made more clear.
Dallas Buyers Club tells an important story, especially with the gay rights movement more active than ever before. With two of the best performances of the year and an inspirational story of a man who tries to make the most of a bad situation, it is one of the best movies of the year. For the first time since 1993’s Philadelphia, there is a movie that fully captures the tragedy of the aids crisis and the homophobia of the time. I was surprised with how much I liked Dallas Buyers Club and you will be too.