Monday, December 09, 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

Based on a 1992 article from The Dallas Morning News by Bill Minutaglio, Dallas Buyers Club is the story about the drug-addicted and homophobic rodeo cowboy Ron Woodruff who is diagnosed with AIDS as he seeks to find medicine to help himself and the new allies he gains in gays and transsexual. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, the film is an exploration into a period where a hustler tries to find illegal medicines to help himself and those suffering from AIDS as Woodruff is played by Matthew McConaughey. Also starring Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts, and Denis O’Hare. Dallas Buyers Club is fascinating yet tremendous film from Jean-Marc Vallee.

The film is based on a true story about a rodeo cowboy named Ron Woodruff who is notorious for his drug abuse and sexual appetite for women where he finds himself as he is later diagnosed with AIDS. After being prescribed the AZT drug which didn’t make him any better as he was only given 30 days to live. He travels to Mexico where he finds a slew of FDA-unapproved drugs that would manage to help him long. The film explores Woodruff’s desire to stay alive as well as organize a club for himself and other AIDS-stricken individuals to get the help they needed as he is aided by transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto) and a kind doctor named Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) where the latter is trying to understand what can help AIDS patients. In turn, Woodruff gets the attention of the federal government who wants to shut him down but Woodruff’s resilience and hustling skills would manage to keep those with a short death sentence a chance to live a little bit longer.

The film’s screenplay does play into Woodruff’s life from the moment he is diagnosed to his fight against the FDA as this homophobic rodeo cowboy becomes this unlikely ally for the gay community in Texas. The first act is about Woodruff’s discovery of his condition and his willingness to stay alive despite the prejudice he receives from old friends who is convinced he’s become gay which is untrue. In meeting the stern though sympathetic Dr. Saks and later one of her patients in Rayon, Woodruff realizes he has to do things and get the help from unlikely people to not just help himself but those with AIDS. Woodruff and Rayon starts a secret club where people pay $400 a month to get these unapproved prescriptions that Woodruff had to get from places around the world.

Though Woodruff and Rayon have a somewhat testy relationship as Woodruff isn’t fond of gays and Rayon isn’t fond of Woodruff’s attitude. The two become an unlikely pair that manages to be one of the script’s highlights. Even as they have to face homophobes, the government, and business-minded doctors who are trying to prevent from getting the help they need. While the activities that Woodruff does is illegal where he even helps out an old friend, he’s only doing something in the hopes that he and many others can just simply stay alive during this horrific plague that was happening in the late 1980s. Particularly in a world that is strange and filled with different extremes like the state of Texas.

Jean-Marc Vallee’s direction is very engaging from the way he opens the film with Woodruff having sex with two women at a rodeo show which represents the life he leads as he’s a man of danger and recklessness. There is something that at first feels laid back but it then becomes this serious drama where Woodruff is diagnosed with AIDS as he is given a 30 day death sentence. Yet, Vallee keeps a sense of liveliness going to play into Woodruff’s denial with the use of hand-held cameras that aren’t very shaky as well as close-ups to showcase the truth that is Woodruff doesn’t want to face. Since it is a film that only takes place in the span of a few years in the 1980s starting with the announcement that Rock Hudson had AIDS where Woodruff boasts that Hudson is an idiot for turning down all of that fine pussy. It is a film that is also about a particular moment in time and in a place like Texas where AIDS is considered a largely homosexual disease or for those who are drug addicts.

The direction becomes more stylish by the film’s second act where Vallee loosen things up as well as inject some humor into the film for many of the moments between Woodruff and Rayon. There’s also moments where the direction is also quite playful to showcase Woodruff’s approach to hustling as he would return from trips all around the world to relax in Texas in an attempt to regain some humanity. Once Woodruff has to face foes who are proven to be far more cruel than he was to gays while having to deal with the realities of his disease. The film does get more dramatic where Woodruff becomes determined as Vallee uses some unique sound design to play into Woodruff’s growing illness.

Yet, there is a payoff that occurs in the end where despite the fact that Woodruff would eventually die from the disease in 1992. Vallee manages to create something that is unique as well as find an unlikely protagonist for audiences to root for while delving into some of the history of the AIDS epidemic. Overall, Vallee creates a very powerful and mesmerizing film about a man’s desire to stay alive and help those who are also suffering from the cruel disease of AIDS.

Cinematographer Yves Belanger does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography with its use of low-key lights for the scenes at night in its interior and exterior settings along with some very vibrant shots for some of the film‘s daytime exterior scenes. Editors Martin Penza and Jean-Marc Valle do amazing work with the editing where it does play into a sense of style from its use of jump-cuts, abrupt transitions, and montages to play into the impact of the disease as well as Woodruff‘s determination to hustle. Production designer John Paino, with set decorator Robert Covelman and art director Javiera Varas, does fantastic work with the set pieces from the motel rooms where Woodruff and Rayon run their operation to some of the buildings and hospitals the characters go to.

Costume designers Bart Mueller and Kurt Swanson do terrific work with the costumes from the cowboy clothes of Woodruff to the more flamboyant look of Rayon. Makeup artist Melanie Deforrest does wonderful work with the look of Rayon in his drag persona as well as the look of Rayon and Woodruff in their physical declines. Visual effects supervisor Marc Cote does some fine work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects such as the backdrops of cities that Woodruff travels to. Sound editor Martin Pinsonnault does brilliant work with the film’s sound to convey some of the atmosphere of the locations as well as the ringing sound in Woodruff’s head as he is dealing with the disease he is suffering. The film’s soundtrack largely consists of a mix of country music as well as some dance-pop at the gay clubs while the rest of the soundtrack is dominated by the music of T.Rex whose leader Marc Bolan is someone that Rayon is fond of.

The casting by Kerry Barden, Rich Delia, and Paul Schnee is just incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small appearances from Deerhunter vocalist Bradford Cox as Rayon’s lover, James DuMont as Rayon’s father, Michael O’Neill as a FDA official who keeps trying to ruin Woodruff’s business, and Griffin Dunne as an eccentric doctor living in Mexico who would help supply Woodruff with FDA-unapproved medicine. Steve Zahn is terrific as the cop Tucker who is an old friend of Woodruff who becomes aware of what he’s doing but decides to keep Woodruff’s activities a secret. Dallas Roberts is pretty good as Woodruff’s friend David Wayne who later pushes Woodruff away because of AIDS only to get confronted when Woodruff defends Rayon. Denis O’Hare is excellent as Dr. Saks’ boss Dr. Sevard as a man who leads the AZT drug trials while becoming suspicious of Woodruff’s activities as well as Dr. Saks’ involvement.

Jennifer Garner is amazing as Dr. Eve Saks as this very kind doctor who wants to help people while is also someone who isn’t afraid to speak her mind as Garner makes her very engaging and complex while not preying into the typical female supporting characters tropes that is often expected. Jared Leto is marvelous as Rayon as this charming transvestite who doesn’t take shit from anyone while proving to be a very capable individual who can get Woodruff to connect with the gays while some of the most startling moments that Leto does is the scene where his character meets his father in the most shocking way that shows how far Rayon is willing to help Woodruff as it’s definitely a career-defining performance for Leto.

Finally, there’s Matthew McConaughey in an outstanding performance as Ron Woodruff where McConaughey brings in that Texan charm that he’s known for with a kind of swagger what makes him an enjoyable presence. Yet, he balances that with a sense of grit and humility as a man realizing that he’s going to die as he is determined to find a way to live his life without a death sentence hanging over his head. The scenes McConaughey has with Leto are just fun to watch as well as the fact that both actors did some serious efforts to look ragged while McConaughey also has some nice chemistry with Garner to showcase a man finally being grounded and cool as it’s definitely McConaughey at his finest.

Dallas Buyers Club is a magnificent film from Jean-Marc Vallee that features an astounding performance from Matthew McConaughey. Along with strong supporting performances from Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner, it is a film that explores a man’s willingness to survive during the AIDS epidemic with the help of some unlikely people and becoming a better man. Especially as he also fights against strong foes who were trying to prevent him from getting better and doing things that were really wrong. In the end, Dallas Buyers Club is a sensational film from Jean-Marc Vallee.

Jean-Marc Vallee Films: (Black List) - (Los Locos) - (Loser Love) - (C.R.A.Z.Y.) - The Young Victoria - (Café de Flore) - Wild (2014 film) - Demolition (2015 film) - (Big Little Lies (TV miniseries))

© thevoid99 2013


ruth said...

Fantastic review Steven! I don't know if I'll catch this on the big screen but I definitely will rent it.

Sounds like everything from the direction, casting, makeup, etc. works wonderfully here, that's always great to see.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. It's really worth seeing just for the performances and the subject matter. I also recommend watching How to Survive a Plague which goes into detail about the war against pharmaceutical companies from AIDS activists during that time where some of them are still alive.