Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Dallas Roberts and Jane McNeill.
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
This film came out quite a while ago now, but it popped up on Netflix recently in my ‘because you watched’ category. I remember loving it first time round so thought I would give it another go…you should too.
There is no doubt; McConaughey gets RIGHT under your skin in this picture. Not least because of his gaunt and emaciated appearance but just his sheer acting talent. He is such an artist and only a fool would question that. Based on a true story, he plays the role of Ron, a bigoted redneck who is told in 1986 that he has Aids and has 30 days to live. Known as the ‘gay man’s disease’, he faces prejudice and is totally ostracised from everything (and everyone) he knows. He defies the odds however, and gives the finger to the complacent doctors and the AZT merchants of Big Pharma and knuckles down to some research, finding alternative drug therapies in foreign countries – not easy in the pre‑internet age. Soon, Ron has set up the Dallas Buyers’ Club, intelligently sidestepping the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules about drug‑selling by getting HIV/Aids patients to pay for “membership” in which imported medicines are questionably free. He makes unlikely friendships with the gay guys he used to hate, and this former bigot becomes an inspirational figure, breaking down the ignorance and general homophobia thereabouts – his own included.
He’s hard as nails, and tenacious in his approach to do something about his diagnosis. He goes to extreme lengths to find alternatives. The emotion and desperation never leaves though. At times, you can see the fear in his eyes – he’s absolutely determined not to succumb to this disease but he’s powerless to actually stop it. Vallée has taken this film to the back streets of Dallas, and hasn’t wasted any time on clever ‘effects’. The odd focus pull was very in keeping with Ron’s deteriorating health, and the added high pitch screams were very disorientating and effective. He nurtures the narrative through direction so well. This film after all isn’t just about Ron’s buyers’ club is it? It is of course also about his growth as a human being, and how this growth allows him to work side by side with a flamboyant transsexual, a person he not only wouldn’t have given the time of day to in his prior life, but possibly would have beaten on the spot.
It brings me to Jared Leto’s character, Rayon. Sweet, gentle, troubled Rayon. He is another AIDS victim refusing to be victimised. It’s a moving, indefinable, under any other circumstances inconceivable meeting of opposites, with Rayon dressing in glamorous glittery cocktail dresses and Ron, well, the total opposite. He’s just a guy trying to keep despair and tragedy at bay. With Rayon assisting Ron in the running of the buyers’ club, I think he is actually one of my favourite characters ever. He is so sassy, so determined not to have AIDS define him. He takes homophobic slander on the chin and fires it back, especially to Ron. Behind his beautiful soul though, there is anguish and pain. Agony that not only is he judged for being Rayon, he is now actually being punished in the form of HIV. Nothing is more painful than watching Rayon’s character stripped away and becoming Raymond again when having to face his father. When his father mumbles, “God help me”, Rayon replies, “He is helping you, I have AIDS”. It’s a powerful scene, with emotive and beautiful script writing. It brings to light the prejudice and difficulties families still have when confronting the unknown, and the effect it has on everyone involved.
If I were to find one thing to criticise, it would be the speed at which everything happens, and how realistic this could be despite it being a true story. However, to a point doesn’t every film have to do this? They are making a film at the end of the day – things needs to be rushed and exaggerated a tad for audience satisfaction. In practice, though, it’s sometimes mildly frustrating. The struggles of people suffering from AIDS in America were epic, and involved a Physician’s Desk Reference worth of meds, and a near-army of regulations and regulatory agencies. McConaughey’s character therefore has to act as both an audience surrogate and a hero, but he’s also a man struggling with potent demons. Vallée’s energetic direction keeps the narrative moving, and there’s a real rush when Ron’s hustling pays off with the creation of the movie’s title entity.
Dallas Buyers Club highlights performances by both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto as models of both emotional and physical commitment – both actors shed alarming amounts of weight to portray the ravages the disease wreaks on their characters. I would say Dallas Buyers Club largely goes out of its way to trigger tears and emotion but it really worked for me. There is enough in the narrative to carry you through, with plenty of room left still to cry. Shot mostly in a direct, near-documentary style, but edited with a keen feel for the subjectivity of its main characters, Dallas Buyers Club takes a more elliptical, near-poetic approach to the lives it portrays than the viewer might expect from this kind of film.
I’m sure you saw it back when it came out, but please watch it again. It’s such a great movie. Five stars without a doubt.