Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

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The quality of Dallas Buyers Club is due largely to Matthew McConaughey's performance. He's not just great because it's Matthew McConaughey in a Serious Role. His performance is beyond the Matthew McConaughey Persona. He plays Ron Woodruff, a man's man who loves little more than booze, bulls, and bimbos. Early in the movie, he is diagnosed with HIV, perceived at the time as something only homosexual men fell victim to. Woodruff's anger turns into a crusade to make effective, but illegal, treatments for HIV/AIDs accessible to his fellow afflicted Texans by way of the titular club. His path to obtaining these drugs leads to a montage reminiscent of Catch Me if You Can, with Woodruff standing in as an older, gaunter, but no less ebullient Frank Abagnale, Jr.

To spread the word about Dallas Buyers Club, Woodruff enlists the help of Rayon, Jared Leto in the Transvestite with Attitude role. While Leto does fine with this, I wasn't completely bowled over by him. A pivotal scene where Rayon confronts her father for financial assistance felt forced and unnatural, as if the two actors had never met until right before filming began that day. We watch as Leto works hard to push a tear out and gives up when the saline isn't forthcoming. But he's sassy and likable and we do care what happens to Rayon.

Jennifer Garner is a bit weak as a doctor wrestling with her conflicting desire to help her patients and her responsibility to adhere to the hospital's rules. Garner isn't terrible, but I kept thinking how much more compelling her character could have been.

Dallas Buyers Club brings to light infuriating points about the ruthless control the government has over people's health and the damage bureaucracy and political agendas have wrought. Shortly after Woodruff learns of his diagnosis, we see him researching the disease. The scream of fury and frustration he releases as he realizes the truth about his condition perfectly captures the feelings we should all have regarding this situation and every one like it.


Dallas Buyers Club is the story of Ron Woodroof, a rootin' tootin' cowboy who sidelines as an electrician when he isn't busy doing the nasty. Straight as an arrow, Woodroof is far from the kinda softie we'd expect to contract the AIDS virus in Dallas, Texas (circa 1985). Ron heads south of the border in search of the drugs he needs (but doesn't have access to) to cure a straight-shooter like himself. Enter Rayon, a sassy transgender woman who assists Ron in establishing a clientele for his new business, The Dallas Buyers Club, which sells illegal drug cocktails to other men struggling with the AIDS virus. With the passing of time, Rayon and Ron strike up an unlikely relationship as they look past their roles as business partners and become friends in the face of Ron's diminishing homophobia. But trouble is afoot as the FDA gets wind of Ron's underground drug distribution operation and attempts to shut the business down.

Matthew McConaughey lost 38 pounds to fill the boots of Ron Woodroof. Not to be one-upped, Jared Leto lost 30 pounds, shaved his eyebrows, and waxed all of the hair off of his body to play the role of Rayon. Unfortunately, the performances both actors give in the film appear to have been upstaged by these physical transformations, which is a real shame considering how powerful the performances are. Jennifer Garner didn't lose any weight to play the role of resident nurse Dr. Eve Saks, so no one's really talking about her performance. But then, there isn't really much to say about it. She's a nurse, and she's not dying, and in a film where a lot of people are dying of AIDS, you kind of just step aside.

Despite a script that I judge to be mediocre at best, Matthew McConaughey turns in a career-defining performance as Woodroof. By refusing to attack the role with the kind of scenery-chewing performance one has come to expect from these kinds of characters, the actor turns in what feels like a truly honest, uncompromised portrayal of a man forced to come to grips with his swiftly changing life. While many films about people with the AIDS virus seem to focus on saying goodbye to friends and loved ones, McConaughey plays a man who thought he could truly beat AIDS by outwitting it at every turn. Leto is terrific in his portrayal of the fictional Rayon, due in no small part to the transformative power of a good make-up artist and costume designer, both of which render him unrecognizable. However, in an important scene where these embellishments disappear, the sass and finesse Leto brings to the role disappear as well, leaving one to wonder how much of the praise he's receiving is actually justified.

The strength of the Dallas Buyers Club may unfortunately be its weakness as well, to some degree. The film often goes out of its way to avoid playing the "sentimental" card, which is a refreshing change from other films that belong to AIDS subgenre. However, at the film's end, the catharsis that we expect to feel is notably lacking as well. It's a tricky game that the Dallas Buyers Club plays and, at the film's conclusion, I couldn't help but to wonder if it had truly accomplished what it set out to do.

Wikipedia has dubbed 2013 as the year of the The McConaissance... and it's no wonder why! After years of being known as the guy who got caught by the cops playing the bongos with his testicles, it's refreshing to know that now Matthew McConaughey can go down as the guy who lost 38 pounds to play an AIDS victim. What a relief.


Dallas Buyers Club is the story of a homophobic redneck who contracts AIDS during its dark ages and teams up with an unlikely new best friend to spread medicinal care to a community that was being neglected.

The first half of the film is heavily expositional and rather unoriginal. Our lead Ron Woodruff, played by Matthew McConaughey, is confronted by doctors about his illness which leads him to become filled with rage and denial. We are shown scene after scene of Woodruff acting highly self-destructive. This all takes too much time. Eventually Jared Leto comes into the picture and the story finally becomes interesting. Leto plays a sensitive transgendered man with a soft natural quality that is mesmerizing. His character Rayon brings all the pieces of the story together and delivers its heart. McConaughey's acting is mostly spot-on, but it still feels very much like typical McConaughey. We are, however, more convinced and involved with the character through his physicality: extreme weight loss, bad hair, and sickly makeup.

Outside of the performances and a story that eventually feels important and heartfelt, this film is mostly forgettable. The development of the relationship between McConaughey and Leto IS the movie for me.