Monday, January 13, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

A harrowing docudrama featuring two great performances

     Dallas Buyers Club recaptures a moment in history that hasn’t passed, though we don’t talk about AIDS for different reasons now than we didn’t talk about it in the mid-1980s.  I thought C. Everett Koop should have been made Surgeon General for life when he displayed the courage of going
against his boss (President Reagan) and sending available information about the disease to every U.S. household in 1987.  Craig Borten interviewed Ron Woodroof, the entrepreneur behind the Dallas Buyers Club, before he died in 1993. Borten wrote the first of what became ten drafts for the screenplay; he shares final credit with Melisa Wallack.  After two decades and a number of stars attached, but not enough financing, Focus Features thankfully came through.

McConaughey as Ron Woodroof
     I’ve been up and down on Matthew McConaughey, but he’s been on a roll since 2011 with The Lincoln Lawyer and he’s astonishing here.  He physically almost vanishes as the movie progresses, but his passion almost ignites everyone around him.  Ron Woodroof was a virulent, bigoted straight electrician, who dealt some drugs on the side, diagnosed with AIDS in 1985.  He bucked the medical establishment and the FDA by locating and selling other AIDS medications besides AZT.  I would have thought conservatives and especially libertarians would applaud an independent small businessman who found a better solution during a crisis than the government, but I haven’t heard it and I’d guess it’s because homophobia is so endemic to how many regard the First Amendment. 

Leto as Rayon
     Jared Leto, a favorite of mine since playing Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life, has finally landed a challenging role in a work that merits attention. He’s lovely as a troubled transgender woman, who becomes Woodroof’s business partner and eventual friend.  His lack of vanity, evidenced by a commitment to emaciation is remarkable.  
Garner and O'Hare
Jennifer Garner, Griffin Dunne, and Denis O’Hare portray the different doctors that befriend, assist, and hinder Woodroof, respectively.  They make the most of quickly sketched characters.

     The lighting is so bright that it’s almost over lit and yet that makes it authentically ‘80s.  It feels like a Dallas heat wave visually or a Movie of the Week from that period.  The production design is impeccable. Overall, it’s a movie that has the guts to fully present a complex character in a terrifying situation and to call out  the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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