Cast

Matthew McConaughey – Ron Woodruff
Jared Leto – Rayon
Jennifer Garner – Dr. Eve Saks
Steve Zahn – Tucker
Denis O’Hare – Dr. Sevard
Michael O’Neill – Richard Barkley
Griffin Dunne – Dr. Vass

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack

Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use.

Review

As usual, November and December have commenced the mad scramble for Oscar glory. These last two months of the year always seem to see a flurry of acclaimed films climbing over each other is a frenzy of dramatic lighting, booming scores and inspirational and “brave” performances. One film that has been receiving quite a bit of Oscar hype as of late is director Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club – especially for its leading men Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto’s incredible transformations and disturbingly frail physiques. Physical transformations do not guarantee acclaim, however, and Vallée’s film must overcome one of the most over-used troupes of the genre in order to be considered a serious contender – Sentimentality.

If there is one aspect of film that I dislike in general, it is the overuse of sentimentality. Not to say being sentimental is an inherently bad thing, but sometimes a film gets so lost in itself waxing nostalgia that it loses its objectivity entirely. Or worse yet, a film falls so far in love with its own sentimentality and desire to show how great their subject matter is that it feels sanitary and toothless – an example being this year’s bland Jackie Robinson film 42. This is a problem that comes out within the biopic and history genres, and especially in during films that come out this time of year.
They often shy away from showing the more unsavory aspects of their subjects in order to show how great the struggle is for their protagonist, making their fight that much more dramatic.

In a refreshing change of pace, however, this is not the case in Dallas Buyers Club. Though it certainly has all the opportunities to become one – It is a biopic (based on the real life story of Ron Woodruff), a period piece (set in the 1980s), and discusses an extremely dramatic subject matter (AIDS) – writers Borten and Wallack manage to avoid these pratfalls by instead emphasizing the flaws of the film’s main characters and allowing them to grow throughout the film. This decision is one of the major keys to the film’s success and sets it’s cast up for some truly remarkable performances.

At the beginning of the film, Woodruff is not a likable protagonist in the least. He is  the definition of a backwoods homophobic redneck – Arrogant, cruel and genuinely unlikable. Even after his diagnosis, it is still fairly difficult to sympathize with him and it is almost rewarding to see him receive the same treatment he gave others. However, even through this less-than-positive portrayal the audience is given a vague hint that he is not entirely heartless, which is important for us to believe that he can be a better person. Even though the seed planted is small, it is still very effective once his transformation begins. But most importantly,the transformation is very much earned and progresses naturally throughout the film.

A lot of the credit for Woodruff’s complexity definitely must go to McConaughey, as this is a powerful performance that proves that he is an immensely talented actor despite some of his earlier roles. Looking beyond the fifty pounds he shed for the role, McConaughey is barely recognizable as he usual charming persona is exchanged for a more mean-spirited demeanor with a dash of explosive anger. Every now and then we get a glimpse of that Southern charm he has made a career off of, but it is only in short glimpses. This works incredibly well, as it allows him to build an emotional wall between himself and the audience until it slowly is taken down through the film.

While McConaughey is the strength of the film, Jared Leto is very clearly the heart as Rayon, a transsexual who becomes Woodruff’s business partner. Leto, much like his co-star, is virtually unrecognizable in every way and he really does become the character. Rayon steals nearly every scene she is in, providing much of the lighter side of the film with her feisty attitude and unwillingness to put up with Woodruff’s behavior, and it gives the film a jolt of energy. The entire tone of the film perks up whenever Rayon appears, and that is a testament to how great of a performance Leto puts in, making him a shoe-in for an Oscar nod this year.

The chemistry between the two is one of the highlights of the film, including a major scene midway through the film at the grocery store. It is a major turning point in the film, and while McConaughey sets up the scene very well, it is the subtlety of Leto’s performance that really sells the scene as one of the best in the whole film. From that point on, the banter between the two shifts to the next level, and it is incredibly rewarding.

While the great performances by McConaughey and Leto have been very publicly lauded, Jennifer Garner’s performance as Woodruff and Rayon’s physician is also fantastic. Her character’s conflict between her loyalty to her employer and her patients is well balanced and never too preachy. Garner plays her character with a such balance that it is very easy to sympathize with her, even when she is placed in between our protagonists and their goals. And much like his chemistry with Leto, McConaughey and Garner has a great on-screen presence together. It never goes too over-the-top romantically, but it is evident that there is a connection between the two, and it is extremely satisfying to watch unfold.

The only major shortcoming of the film comes late in the film, as the film seems to rush towards it’s finale. While we do get an adequate conclusion to the film, it just feels like Vallée may have been running out of time or money and as a result we are only able to get a quick summary of what happened next. Which is a shame, as the subplot involving the Dallas Buyers Club and the FDA is brought to a rather anti-climactic end before the film awkwardly concludes. That aside, the film’s story as a whole is still fairly engaging and emotional, which is more important.

Bottom Line

Dallas Buyers Club is a solid film with a powerful message that does not allow itself to fall victim to being overly sentimental, which is incredibly rare for a film like this. Although the film’s third act is rushed along, this film is very much supposed to be a character piece and that is where the film’s strengths lie. It definitely lives up to the hype as all three of it’s major stars, especially Leto,  manage to turn in amazing performances that should bring them plenty of award nominations in the next few months.

Dallas Buyers Club Theatrical Trailer

About The Author

Kevin McDaniel graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2012 majoring in Film and Video Production with a minor in Writing. His thesis film, Gus Baranto, P.I. and the Case of the Missing Pudding, was also released that year to some bemused laughter and confused looks. Since graduating, he has worked on the feature film Sand Castles, due to hit out the festival circuit late next year. Ever since he was young, he has had a large interest in film - and thanks to a childhood fascination with Batman – the crime and film noir genres. His three primary influences as a filmmaker are Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Saw, although his favorite film is Brick .

When not writing for DestroyTheCyborg, Kevin is usually either locked in his room playing video games or locked in his office working on various scripts, including The Party which is being co-developed with fellow DTC writers Mike Rapin and Chase Szymanski. If not indoors, he might be riding his bike or at a baseball game, depending on the weather. While not as avid a comic book reader as he once was, Kevin enjoys the various works of Steve Niles, Greg Rucka and Garth Ennis. Although if he had to choose a side, he would be a Marvel.

Outside of his geek culture, Kevin is a pretty normal guy despite having his birth constantly compared to the chest-burster scene from Alien. He is occasionally told that he looks like Ashton Kutcher, which mildly irritates him. Another fun fact about him is that he would one day like to learn how to swing dance. His celebrity crush is Michelle Trachtenberg and his favorite color is gray. This is also a great time to mention that he considers it really awkward writing about himself in the third person. He currently resides in the Cleveland, Ohio area with his hamster, Miranda.

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