Jan 25, 2015

[Movies] Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

I seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Matthew McConaughey. He's established himself as quite the skilled actor and he's more than willing to fully immerse himself into a role. But at the same time he seems to choose to play characters that I end up not liking all that much. So is my dislike for his characters evidence of how good an actor he is? When he plays someone unlikable in a rather authentic manner, does this mean he's right on the mark?

This was my struggle with Dallas Buyers Club as a movie experience. A lot of the movie revolves around McConaughey's character, who isn't exactly a one that you immediately warm up to. And while the movie is focused around his efforts which played a key role in helping a lot of people living with HIV, he didn't exactly do things for entirely altruistic reasons either.

I suppose at the end of the day, these are all good things. Movies that make you question and make you really think about the subject material are certainly movies worth their weight in water. And this movie really tries to cover a lot of important ground.

Synopsis: Dallas Buyers Club is a 2013 biographical drama movie directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. The screenplay had been written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack based on interviews with Ron Woodroof Borten had conducted in 1992.

Dallas 1985, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is an electrician and rodeo cowboy. After some unusual moments of weakness and such, he is diagnosed with full-blown AIDS and the doctors believe that he only has about 30 days left to live. Initially Ron doesn't believe any of it - this was the early days of the AIDS epidemic after all and it was something that only happened to homosexuals. Given the public perception of AIDS, he eventually loses his job and even gets evicted from his own.

Enter Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), who informs Ron that the FDA has approved AZT for human trials, but of course half of such test groups get the drug while the other half only gets placebos. Ron bribes his way into getting the drug, but his situation seems to worsen. And when he tries crossing the border into Mexico to get more AZT, there he learns of other drugs that might help including ddC and peptide T. But these drugs aren't approved for use in the US. And as his health improves, Ron starts thinking about making money selling the drugs from Mexico over in the US.

A lot of people talk about McConaughey's physical transformation in order to fulfill the needs of this role. As expected, he lost a LOT of weight and that can make for quite  the dramatic impression. We've seen similar physical transformations from the likes of Christian Bale in The Machinist and more recently with Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. It certainly demonstrates an actor's commitment to a role when they do things like this. And let's face it - a lot of people who live with HIV and have reached the stage of AIDS, they can look pretty gaunt and haunted indeed.

But I sincerely think that McConaughey's performance alone wouldn't have been quite as notable without the role of the transgender woman Rayon (Jared Leto). Leto had gone through a bit of a physical transformation for this role as well by losing 30 pounds and waxed most of his body in order to fit the role better. Beyond the physical, this wisp of an individual made a striking impact on things and represented perhaps the whole LGBT segment, And while Rayon is a fictional character inspired by different personalities at the time, in terms of the movie the function Rayon serves is to help Ron humanize the folks he deals with.

That's what initially makes him so unlikable. He gets into the whole transporting of drugs really as a way to earn money and of course to secure his own supply of drugs as a fellow person living with HIV. It wasn't some sort of altruistic drive to do all this - and a number of scenes emphasize this fact about him. No money, no drugs - that was the basic rule at work here.

Rayon doesn't necessarily change him from head to foot and it's not like Ron suddenly loves the whole LGBT community by the end of things. But he does manage to soften Ron's practically homphobic stance over time. He progresses from being a sort of drug smuggler and pusher to a champion for a cause and even tries to challenge the FDA ban on Peptide T. He's not necessarily amazing at it - this isn't quite Erin Brockovich. But at least he tries.

Dallas Buyers Club is a complex movie, as is the case of many stories that are more true to life than fiction. And even though not everyone in the movie is "real" in the strictest sense, the core story is true enough, and that's where its power lies. So the movie gets a good 4 moments of tension between Ron and Rayon out of a possible 5.


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