Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
A film of marginal pairs’ balance that move among realism and fantasy, hope and disillusionment, justice and injustice, heterosexuality and homosexuality, AIDS and life.
Jean-Marc Vallée during the previous years has succeeded to become one of the most recognizable directors from Quebec. He became well known outside Canada due to his successful comic film C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) and the most recent and even more commercial Café de Flore (2011). For his latest work, Vallée returns to Hollywood after four years with the biopic drama Dallas Buyers Club. The film is pending six Oscar’s nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay.
In the mid 1980’s Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), an electrician and rodeo cowboy from Dallas, Texas is diagnosed with AIDS and has only 30 days to live. Woodroof does not accept the diagnosis as it was believed that the disease only affects homosexuals and he was straight and homophobic. When he finally accepts it he will search every possible way of treatment. After rejecting the proposal of the suggested experimental drug AZT, Woodroof will try another method of treatment from Mexico this time. The new method is successful and Ron exceeds the lifetime limit that the doctors set. So he decides to illegally import and sell the new formula. With the help of Rayon (Jared Leto), an HIV-positive transgender, Ron will have access to gay hangouts. For an easier distribution of the product they will both start the subscribers’ Dallas Buyers Club. These illegal actions will disturb the official authorities and the FDA.
Vallée has become a recognized commercial director although he cannot be characterized by a distinctive or particular cinematic style. For that reasons there were no specific expectations with his latest work. The only common element that connects his existing filmography is his special insistence on character development and undoubtedly with Dallas Buyers Club he reaches a new higher level. By following a very classic but still definitely interesting approach the two main heroes move as a typical antithetical couple. The foulmouthed white trash homophobic straight should coexist with the sophisticated impoverished transsexual prostitute since they share the same disease and that unites them. This dipole’s success is clearly based on the convincing but not extreme and exaggerated performances by McConaughey and Leto. Fortunately they are not limited by going through the obvious and necessary changes in their appearances In order to present a plausible image of an AIDS patient. They also managed to remain faithful and close to the odd personas that had created.
McConaughey by offering perhaps his most significant performance so far in his career depicts in the roughest way the fall of a man and the piercing awareness of his drama. Without going to any melodramatic mannerisms and by slightly overstating his deformed appearance, he illustrates the gradual disintegration of the hero’s ego and arrogance as the disease slowly destroys him. At the same time he will also succeed to regenerate himself, or at least to be somehow reconstituted. As already mentioned, McConaughey doesn’t try to perform in an over exaggerated as he follows a hero’s model that has a more romantic feel of Hollywood’s canon. It is understood that in Wooroof’s character are reflected to a large extent all the prejudices and beliefs of the people of that period that had to deal with an unknown and slightly “marginalized” virus that suddenly destroyed the sexual blissfulness of the 80s. Leto, who returns to cinema after four years of absence, represents precisely this theoretical moral sewer that everyone tried to avoid. Without transforming Rayon into a caricature he keeps the balance and gives the necessary support to the initial Woodroof’s contradiction. Unfortunately some clichés are not missing but perhaps these could be attributed to the most convincing depiction of the era.
The classic way of Vallée’s directing will bond with the script written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack which is perfectly linear and also wants to raise some additional issues beyond the creation of powerful characters. As it is already mentioned, the bias for AIDS in the 80s and the targeting of patients and generally homosexuals were particularly strong and were mainly based on ignorance even by scientists. Dallas Buyers Club is trying to somehow justify those that have suffered this behavior in the past and also presents to us a strange period that that does not resemble at all the politically correct today’s status. Once again this is succeeded by avoiding the melodramatic tones and by maintaining a slightly emotional but not provocative depiction. Vallée does not want to put the viewer into the core of the problem or push him to reach a solution that could disturb and annoy him in the end. He is dealing with AIDS from a tender distance, he has an interest that reaches the general social concern but is not struggling for something more than that. Despite the criticism towards the US Food and Drug Administration, the film never becomes substantially political. Following once more the classic Hollywood motif, the film simply presents the typical working-class / folk hero who is fighting against a brutal system. The screenplay is largely based on real events of Ron Woodroof’s life but also has some strong fictional elements with the creation of Rayon being the most evident.
Dallas Buyers Club is without doubt the film that will highlight artistically primarily Jean-Marc Vallée and Matthew McConaughey and secondarily Jared Leto too. Despite some weaknesses it is a strong character based drama that strictly follows the typical rules of classic Hollywood categorization. Beyond all the obvious facts it is a film of marginal pairs’ balance that move among realism and fantasy, hope and disillusionment, justice and injustice, heterosexuality and homosexuality, AIDS and life.