Biopics are plentiful in the world of movies these days. Some good, some average or disappointing, and some just plain bad. The latest, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is about the true story of famous, or perhaps infamous, cowboy and hustler Ron Woodroof who was diagnosed with AIDS and took on the system back in the mid 1980’s. Matthew McConaughey’s transformation has been well documented, in his Christian Bale like (in The Machinist) weight loss where he dropped around 45 lbs. The question is, was it worth it?
In Dallas, in 1985, an electrician named Ron Woodroof with a love of drugs, drinks, money and sex, is diagnosed with AIDS. During a time when the disease is largely unknown, and associated with homosexuality, Ron (who is an first class bigot, with complete intolerance for homosexuality) is in shock and disbelief. Given 30 days to live, and with the realization that good treatment doesn’t exist, and the system is crooked, he takes matters into his own hands by finding medicine and distributing it to those who need it.
Dallas Buyers Club has been touted from the beginning as a potential Oscar candidate for Best Picture, and both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto (who plays Ron’s transvestite business partner) are expected to be nominated for their performances. Let me just start by saying that both nothing less than a nomination, and possibly in McConaughey’s case, nothing less than the Academy Award for Best Actor itself.
McConaughey dropped all that weight to transform himself for the role, and people say these kinds of transformations are fast tracks to Oscar success. However, I’d like the state that the transformation is only a small part of why he deserves the award. He was absolutely electric from beginning to end as the brash, bold, fast talking Ron Woodroof. He brings an amazing charm to a man who should be hated by the viewer, and instead makes him a deeply flawed but lovable hero. He is hilarious, he is hard nosed, he’s strangely inspiring. But the hardest part is to show the change of attitude that Woodroof undergoes over time, while making it believable. He does it with ease.
Outside of the acting itself, there is the story that is to be told by the writers and director Jean-Marc Vallee. In my opinion, what is fascinating about this film is that the subject material and the true story hold some really touchy subject matter that is difficult to present in a way that audiences can relate to and find entertaining.
The easy route would be to mask some of Woodroof’s huge flaws and bigotry. Instead they chose to put them front and center. The movie begins with a threesome involving two prostitutes and cocaine. Ron uses endless homophobic and racial slurs. Even as he begins to change and become more accepting, they don’t cease completely. Just the malice behind them. He was not perfect. Far from it. This only adds to the complexity of the character and the film.
His story is incredible, and over the 117 minute run time it unfolds at a perfect pace. The movie did not ever seem to drag on, largely due to every scene being meaningful but not overly dramatic, and also due to the fact that McConaughey is on camera for most of the time and lights up every moment of screentime he gets. I didn’t know the complete Ron Woodroof story before I saw the film, but even if I had there would still be plenty to keep me glued to the screen.
The chemistry between McConaughey and Leto is one of the biggest highlights of the movie, and their partnership somewhat symbolizes Ron’s evolution as a man. Their dynamic is hilarious, enlightening, uplifting and often times incredibly sad, but it is a large reason that both will surely be involved this Oscar season.
On one more note, visually the film is fantastic. It has this seedy, grainy, low budget quality that just adds to the authenticity of the 1985 time period and the dirty, red-neck filled Texas landscapes. Then the characters, the outfits and the make-up are equally on point. All just more positives to add to the incredibly story, writing, dialogue and acting performances.
Earlier this year, I stated that ‘Prisoners’ was my favorite movie of the year so far (followed closely by Gravity). Well, now it has some stiff competition. ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a fantastic story, told to perfection and a once in a lifetime performance for McConaughey. I am incredibly happy to have seen it, and the feeling I got leaving the theater was a mixture of so many emotions regarding the content and the quality of the film itself. Go see it soon.