When Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar for his work in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013) earlier this year, I decided to go back and watch some of McConaughey’s roles from the past few years which led up to his Oscar winning performance, thus starting my own personal Matthew McConaughey tour.
Alas, the Matthew McConaughey tour comes to a close today with my review of DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.
Based on true events, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB takes place in 1985, just when the AIDS epidemic was first making front page news. Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is an electrician who works at a rodeo. He lives a fast and wild life: sex, alcohol, smoking, and drug use, and that’s just in one day. Nope, Ron is not going to win any awards for Man With The Healthiest Lifestyle. In fact, he is shocked to learn that he is HIV positive, since he believed the AIDS disease was only contracted by homosexuals.
Initially in denial, he cusses out his doctors Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Eve (Jennifer Garner) accusing them of mixing up his blood results with someone else’s, and he scoffs at their prediction that he only has thirty days to live. Eventually, though, Ron realizes that he is indeed very ill, and he reads up on HIV and the AIDS virus.
He learns that the one drug treating AIDS is called AZT, but since it hasn’t been approved yet, he is not allowed access to it. Ron decides to take matters into his own hands to get AZT by any means possible, which eventually leads him to Mexico where he meets a disbarred American doctor Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) who steers Ron away from AZT, calling it poison, and instead prescribes Ron with a series of vitamins and alternative medicines which do in fact succeed in prolonging his life.
Ron returns to Dallas and strikes up an unlikely friendship with a transsexual he met at the hospital Rayon (Jared Leto). Together, they start the Dallas Buyers Club, a club in which members pay a flat fee for access to the alternative medicines which Ron continues to bring into the country in an effort to treat as many fellow AIDS sufferers as they can. They fight an uphill battle against both doctors who see the Club as dangerous for their patients, and the FDA who see their actions as illegal and want to shut them down.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB tells a moving and relevant story, and for those of us who remember these times during the 1980s- the fear, the misinformation, and the stigma that went along with AIDS and HIV- it’s a chilling reminder of a troublesome time in our history. It’s a decent screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, but it’s not the strength of the movie.
The strength of the movie is the acting. Across the board, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB features phenomenal acting performances.
Leading the way is Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, the homophobic womanizer who at first is anything but a sympathetic main character, but as the movie goes on and Ron grows more frustrated with the system and becomes more and more proactive in seeking out alternative treatments, he develops into a leader for the HIV infected community. Through his actions, he becomes an admirable person.
And when we grow to like Ron, it’s not in a superficial phony way. He doesn’t suddenly go from homophobic hick to open-minded hero. He may become more tolerant towards the gay community and those suffering from AIDS, but he’s still the same roughneck personality. He’s just channeling his tough guy tendencies towards a worthy cause.
McConaughey looks absolutely sickly and weak in this movie, which is a testament to both the make-up department and his performance. In fact, Adruitha Lee and Robin Mathews won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling.
Believe it or not, even better than McConaughey in this movie is Jared Leto as transsexual Rayon. Leto also won an Oscar, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. Rayon was my favorite character in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB because Leto makes him such a three dimensional sympathetic person. We learn firsthand about his hopes and fears, we see him struggle through his weaknesses, and we witness some very painful moments in his life, like when he visits his father, who is completely ashamed and disgusted by his son. Rayon is also the character who without really trying to do so reaches Ron, and breaks through his tough exterior. Without Rayon, Ron wouldn’t have been able to operate the Dallas Buyers Club.
Jennifer Garner is also excellent as Eve, the doctor who at first warns her patients to stay away from Ron, but as the two become closer, and she listens to what Ron has to say and reads his research, she begins to change her mind about AIDS treatment. Denis O’Hare is just as good as Dr. Sevard, the doctor who is steadfast in his opinion that Ron is flat out wrong.
Michael O’Neill is sufficiently annoying as FDA agent Richard Barkley, and Dallas Roberts is effective as Ron’s lawyer David Wayne, while Griffin Dunne makes his mark as the doctor in Mexico who first steers Ron on the path towards alternative medicines.
Director Jean-Marc Vallee has made a film that captures the fear, sadness, and suffering of this time period, when AIDS was a new and relatively unknown disease, and rumors ran rampant, and treatments were inadequate. It goes without saying, that DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is not a fun movie.
Of the Matthew McConaughey movies I watched this past year, the one I probably enjoyed the most was MUD (2012). Taken as a whole, MUD was the most entertaining of these movies. McConaughey was excellent in all of them, but he was best as Ron Woodroof in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.
I’m looking forward to seeing what he does next.