movie film review | chris tookey

Dallas Buyers Club

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  Dallas Buyers Club Review
Tookey's Rating
6 /10
Average Rating
7.51 /10
Matthew McConaughey , Jennifer Garner , Jared Leto
Full Cast >

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
Written by: Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Released: 2013
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 117

This is the more-or-less true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey, Oscar-worthy again, pictured), a rampantly heterosexual Texan electrician who discovers he has contracted HIV, the Aids virus.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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The movie contains not one but two chaste love stories. One is with female doctor Eve (Jennifer Garner) who initially despises Ron’s sexism but comes round to sharing his anti-authoritarian view of the medical establishment. The other is with a beautiful transvestite man called Rayon (Jared Leto) who deplores Ron’s homophobia but wins him over to seeing the whole person, not the “pervert”. This element of the film is heavily indebted to Kiss of the Spider Woman, which won William Hurt an Oscar in a similar role. Mr Leto is equally effective, and deserved at least to be Oscar-nominated (in the event, he won).

Though not a likely award-winner, Garner - largely without makeup - does a better than solid job in her underwritten role. Though she is excellent in comedies such as 13 Going on 30, she is also good at conveying compassion. Impressively, she seems even to have forgiven McConaughey for his eminently dislikable performance opposite her in The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past - which must rank as his most obnoxious movie, alongside Fool’s Gold, The Wedding Planner and Failure to Launch.

Back on top form, McConaughey gives a full-on, charismatic and extremely lively performance as an obnoxious Texan redneck humanised by having the Aids virus, befriending fellow-sufferers (though only one of these is portrayed with any depth) and the fight against those who get in the way of his battle. The movie also works as a celebration of American entrepreneurialism. Our hero has the driven quality of Leonardo Di Caprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, but here is a good deal more sympathetic as the underdog catering for the forgotten and despised. This is a real-life biopic, and a story worth telling.

I’ve liked a lot of McConaughey’s recent performances, and this tour de force - made all the more award-friendly by his spectacular weight loss, which always impresses voters - may come as a shock to those who remember him only in forgettable romcoms and dodgy action movies. Here he combines the cockiness of his Lincoln Lawyer, his delight in being a pariah in Mud and the inspirational quality he captured in his extraordinary cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street. McConaughey gives it his all, and approaches it with the free-wheeling confidence of Jack Nicholson at his height in the 70s.

There’s not much story packed into the film’s two hours, and it does feel a trifle predictable and repetitive, with several scenes reiterating points that have already been made. It is at these moments that it starts to resemble a disease-of-the-week TV movie. I couldn’t help feeling that its two main messages - homophobia is wrong, never trust the medical establishment - bordered on the trite. The movie doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t know, which makes the second half drag. Like many movies in search of Oscars, it could have been improved by losing twenty minutes.

Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee, previously best known for The Young Victoria, does decent but unspectacular work. He lacks the visual panache of the top directors of 2013, but he’s evidently a useful talent who knows how to bring out the best in actors - a likely successor, perhaps, to Stephen Frears when he hangs up his viewfinder.

My big reservation about the movie is this. Why choose Ron Woodroof as a hero? He was just one of several people who headed abroad in search of alternative anti-Aids drugs. He was not the only person to bring drugs back to America and start selling them to Aids victims, thereby exposing the Food and Drugs Administration’s slowness in approving usage. He was one of quite a few sufferers to extend his own life by years when he had been given only days to live. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Woodroof was considered worthy of a biopic because he was white and not gay.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it does imply that the homosexuals suffering from Aids needed a white, heterosexual saviour - rather like all those Hollywood movies in which black people are saved by square-jawed white liberals. If I were a gay Aids activist - and there’s an awful lot of them - or a historian of those who took on the pharmaceutical establishment I would feel distinctly miffed. If you want to know the true story, you’d be better off watching documentaries such as How To Survive a Plague and We Were Here or even the drama And the Band Played On, though the book on which that was based was much better.

Dallas Buyers Club is a little too tiresomely didactic and resorts too readily to melodrama and cliche. There are clumsy and over-familiar dramatic devices, such as Dr Eve getting her information about Aids from TV news reports. To contrast with her, the “bad” doctor (played by Denis O’Hare) comes across as a bit too obviously callous to be true. In reducing the complex relationship between Aids activists and the pharmaceutical establishment to good versus evil, the film does both sides a disservice.

The distrust of modern medicine and its practitioners is undeniably crowd-pleasing but it also feels pandering and one-sided. What about the buyers’ clubs that promoted drugs that didn’t work? What about the many people in drugs companies honestly searching for a cure?

Despite the anarchic performance at its core, the film ends up disappointingly safe and conventional. And that may account for why I wasn’t as moved by the film as I should have been.

So I wouldn’t go along with those who say this is McConaughey’s best movie - that honour must go to Lone Star (1996) with the little-known Frailty (2001) a runner-up - but it certainly establishes him as one of the finest Hollywood actors working today.

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