REVIEW: Dallas Buyers Club

24 08 2014

It’s tempting to look at the flashy physical transformations of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyers Club” and assume that the film’s allure lies solely on the surface.  (Not helping matters were the heaps of attention and awards for the actors while the below-the-line talent went virtually unrecognized.)  Director Jean-Marc Vallée actually does deliver a film, however, with a surprisingly deep amount of care in its crafting.

We first meet McConaughey’s tough-talking Texas cowboy Ron Woodruff as he womanizes, a scene which feels all too typical.  Yet pay attention to the way the sequence is spliced together, both visually and aurally, and you may notice how simply and effectively Vallée foreshadows Woodruff’s impending HIV diagnosis.  These flourishes, subtle as they may be, go a long way to prevent “Dallas Buyers Club” from hokey Oscar bait.

Flashy though their work may be, the beauty of McConaughey and Leto’s performances also comes from these smaller moments.  While it’s easy to marvel about how gaunt Leto appears or how seamlessly he disappears into AIDS-stricken trans woman Rayon, he’s at his most impactful when breaking down in tears over fretting imminent death.  The same goes for McConaughey, who gets to slowly peel away layers of calloused toughness to reveal humanity and empathy.

Dallas Buyers Club

These little instances, however, make up a relatively low proportion of the film.  “Dallas Buyers Club” is always interesting, but it never really feels compelling.  The script, penned by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, seems rather by the book.  It satisfies yet rarely surprises.  You might think that a film about a man quite literally living on the edge, selling banned pharmaceutical drugs to save lives, might pack a little more excitement.

All too often, “Dallas Buyers Club” settles to be a bit of a morality play about straight-as-an-arrow homophobe Woodruff discovering how to have sympathy for the homosexual community, who were fighting on the frontline of the battle against AIDS in the film’s mid-1980s setting.  I suppose there are still far too many people still need to learn this lesson, though, so the film is certainly a welcome lesson in acceptance that ought to be heeded.  B2halfstars



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