In 2009, Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Garner starred in a throwaway romantic comedy called Ghosts of Girlfriend’s Past. Watching the film, you had a feeling these two actors were capable of higher quality filmmaking. Fast forward to November of 2013 and that wish of mine has been granted. McConaughey and Garner share the screen here in Dallas Buyers Club, in one of the better films of 2013. Dare I say it isn’t an outstanding film because the directing and writing isn’t as memorable as the performances but the overall impact here creates a crowd pleasing film that will win at the box office.
Make no mistake, though, it’s not often that a film like Dallas Buyers Club comes along and rocks your soul without manipulating it first. The greatest thing about this movie is that it is powerful without really trying to be and that happens because two actors, McConaughey and Leto, give Oscar worthy performances and the writers and director don’t get in their way. What the film lacks in sophisticated storytelling and direction, it makes up for with brilliant transformative performances.
The movie tells the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan infected with the AIDS virus who takes matters into his own hands by finding his own cure and not just helping himself but developing a system that helps fellow victims of the virus as well. In 1985, there wasn’t a cure for AIDS and all people could do was hope to land themselves in an ill-fated drug trial. If you got it, you had 30 days to live in agony before expiring. Woodroof was far from a perfect man but wasn’t going to just wither away. The movie is an understated gut punch because the story is powerful enough to get into your senses and electrify you for 2 hours. Some true stories have to acquire a loud musical score, actors who overact and screenplays that use a Kleenex box as their defense mechanism. Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t want your sympathy. It wants your attention and the material speaks for itself. The mood is grim yet doesn’t shy away from a comedic moment and the look is gray yet allows a few colors to pop in the process.
McConaughey has never been better, and that’s saying something considering his last 3 years of work. There isn’t an actor in Hollywood on a hotter streak than this guy and his renaissance is due to a picky mindset of scripts and roles. No longer wasting his time in disposable romantic comedies(Ashton Kutcher exists for a reason), McConaughey looks for the juice hanging from the script these days and gives a performance in this film that will grab your attention because you know the face yet will astonished by the work. The magic that movie stars have to pull off is disguising their well-known faces and bodies into roles for a matter of time so they can fool us into thinking they are somebody else. McConaughey does that and more here, getting into the skin and bones of a man faced with the harshest predicament who won’t go down fighting. Given 30 days, Woodroff lasted 7 years and that’s a testament to his will and ability to adapt. In order to make us realize that, McConaughey has to convince us and instead he blows us away. I’ve always been a fan of the man but here he surprised me even when I took high expectations into film. Instead of crying a lot or wearing a bunch of makeup, McConaughey lost a ton of weight and became Woodroof. It’s a breathtaking transformation from a romantic comedy super star into an A List actor.
Leto is nearly as good here as the transsexual Rayon, who joins forces with Woodroof in his mission to help and inform. He doesn’t work too often these days but here, Leto reminds you of his ability to disappear into the most bizarre characters and find a soulful tune to play. A woman stuck in a man’s body, Rayon sees a renegade in Ron and attaches himself to his plight. The result is some of the best work inside a scene between two actors in some time. Leto and McConaughey have one particular scene that will stir the emotions in a way few thought possible when we first met Rayon. Expect to see both actors at the Oscars next year. While not deserving of awards, the work of Garner and Zahn are also noteworthy here as two people who become a part of Woodroof’s mission.
Vallee hasn’t done a ton of films and he doesn’t leave an indelible mark on the world of filmmaking. When it has a chance to tell a more intimate and informative story, Vallee’s direction just can’t rise to that level. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s script helps the filmmaker’s approach in handing a film to its actors and watching them take over. Their dialogue hinges on the delivery of it from the talented cast which makes the writers work a little less memorable. In my mind, if the story is good enough, the director and screenwriter’s job is easier and the actors can be let loose to play in the school yard. In the end, that makes the work of Vallee, Borten and Wallack a little less substantial and more like an assist. There are times where I wonder what a more accomplished director could have done with this film.
Dallas Buyers Club may not be the best movie I have seen all year but it is certainly high quality. At this point, it’s hard to give labels to films before the year is over. That takes away from the particular enjoyment of the film. I can tell you this. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto give unforgettable performances here that demand award contention and the film rides their work to becoming a memorable experience. It isn’t just worth watching. It deserves your attention because great acting is a special thing to witness. It’s like watching an inside the park home run. Dallas Buyers Club plays to every crowd there is in the world and while it’s simplistically safe storytelling approach keeps it from being dynamic, it is a movie I will probably watch again in theaters. Care to join me?