Nov 8, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

When actors play showy roles that entail extreme physical changes, it is easy to confuse their physical transformations with acting. They lose or gain 40 pounds, and it is an enormous sacrifice, but that does not automatically deserve them nominations and prizes. A full fledged character has to shine through the physicality. Losing 40 pounds and starving to death probably helps actors embody physical and mental pain, but the great ones bring to the table more than that. They bring the truth.
In the case of Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodruff in Dallas Buyers Club, his extraordinary performance is as impressive as his extreme gauntness. AIDS brings about a vicious physical devastation, and it is right from McConaughey to honor the tragedy of AIDS by looking the part. No amount of make up can convey the deathly mien of this disease. McConaughey looks dangerously ill. But the life force he summons to play this racist, homophobic Texan man is heroic.
Ron Woodruff was a card carrying straight sex addict, electrician and petty hustler who found out he had contracted HIV at the beginning of the epidemic in 1985. That McConaughey is a shoo in for an Oscar and every other award in existence is a given. But look at his reaction when he is told the news in a hospital. Watch the shadow of utter terror in his eyes as he realizes how he got the infection.
He is magnificent, as he has been in every movie he's been in lately. His Ron Woodruff is a schemer, a charmer, the possessor of an outsize personality and no fear, who, out of total self-interest at first, decides to seek treatment for himself, since the FDA is taking forever to approve safer drugs. He also gets a bitter taste of his own medicine as he becomes a pariah because of his illness, at the time exclusively associated in the minds of people, with gay men.
At first he is out to save himself, but then, like a good hustler, he realizes the business potential of supplying non approved drugs to the many desperate, infected citizens of Dallas. A true American hero, in the capitalist sense of the word "American", he devises a system that will give patients the drugs they need to survive (which he finds in other countries) through a brilliant membership scheme. Then he has no choice but to deal with the "faggots" he so despises. And then he learns compassion. You can see the transformation from a hoodlum to a responsible businessman, let alone from a hater, to someone who cares.
The movie is not great. The cuts are annoying, it is not visually inspiring (which is fitting to the ugliness of the disease), the pacing is cumbersome, and every time McConaughey is not on screen, the movie seems to drag. He infuses the movie with such truth and energy, which such presence, and he is such a charmer that you root for him even when he is at his worst. He has always been extremely confident with body language (he reminds me of Christopher Walken: elegant, feline), and he has impeccable timing in his delivery, both in comedic and serious moments. Being from Texas, he doesn't have to fake the accent, and it is a delight to listen to that natural Texan drawl.
Jared Leto is also deeply affecting and sensational as Rayon, a very skinny trannie Ron meets while at the hospital. He should be nominated for best supporting actor. Both of them have moments of humor and wit, and moments that break your heart. Director Jean-Marc Vallee got absolute beauty and honesty in these two performances. At times, the rest of the film threatens to slide into movie of the week territory, but McConaughey's and Leto's fierceness, and Vallee's unsentimental approach to the subject elevate Dallas Buyers Club into the most realistic movie dealing with the subject of AIDS that I have seen.

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