Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Language, some Strong Sexual Content, Nudity and Drug Use
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
Written by: Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn & Dallas Roberts
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is based on a rather incredible true story. Notice that I said the film is BASED ON a rather incredible true story, instead of that it IS a rather incredible true story. As with many movies that claim to be inspired by true events, the screenwriters took creative liberties with the script. So much so that they wrote in two supporting characters that never really existed. This might seem like a big problem from the point of view of someone who hasn’t seen the film, but it actually helps the movie as a whole. We need to remember that the film world and the real world are (and always will be) two separate entities. They should be taken as such. As a film, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB comes off as a masterwork of emotion and the power of what one will do to ensure that their life means something.
It’s 1985 and Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) parties hard. By partying hard, I mean that he pretty much has sex with any beautiful woman that he fancies, chain smokes, abuses many drugs, and drinks himself silly. With this dangerous lifestyle come some risks and one of them rears its ugly head in a discovery that changes Ron’s outlook on life. After feeling sickly for a while and passing out at his job, Ron is taken into the hospital and diagnosed with HIV. Immediately shunned by his so-called friends and with an estimated 30 days to live, Ron desperately tries to sneak some trial drugs from the hospital.
Of course, this can’t (and won’t) last forever, so he packs up his things and heads to Mexico where he finds some unapproved (by the FDA) drugs that produce amazing results. Seeing dollar signs at first, Ron makes a deal with the doctor and sets up a paid program. This Buyers Club, as he calls it, is a place where HIV-Positive patients can get drugs that actually work. Befriending a transsexual (Jared Leto) and confiding in a doctor (Jennifer Garner), Ron engages in an all out war with the FDA to keep his Buyers Club alive, along with his newfound friends and club members.
As a testament to DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, I can safely say that I was engaged in the film from beginning to end. The two hours felt like exactly the right amount of time to tell this story. With such a time, the film never wears out its welcome. The addition of fictitious characters in films based on true events comes as nothing new (e.g. THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND). This is one of those cases where the addition of these characters actually adds to the power of this as a film, rather than a completely factual tale ripped right out of the headlines.
These characters would be nothing without the talent giving them life. Jennifer Garner is sympathetic as a doctor torn between what her job dictates and what she feels is right (even if it may be considered unethical by her employers). Jared Leto gives an absolutely amazing performance as Rayon, a transsexual who quickly befriends Ron. Speaking of which, Ron Woodroof isn’t the most likable guy at the beginning of the film. He stars off as a redneck trailer trash hick and he’s highly homophobic to boot. We watch as his views change through the movie and he becomes more accepting of those radically different from him. It will be a crime if Matthew McConaughey doesn’t get a nomination at the Oscars and equally surprising if Jared Leto doesn’t get one as well for Best Supporting Actor.
The mark of a good movie is getting the viewer involved in the what’s going on in the screen. It’s more than just watching the scenes unfold, it’s feeling the same emotions as the characters and the power that comes with them. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB excels in this regard. I was frustrated when Ron’s battle with the FDA escalated. On a side note, this movie may also make you think twice before taking any FDA approved drugs. That’s not what the film is about though. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is a movie about life itself and how people will dig deep in themselves to make their existence matter. It’s not only a phenomenal film, it’s also one of the very best 2013 has to offer.