Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Indie Review: Dallas Buyers Club
Brilliant Performances Help Carry A Problematic Film That Seems Set Up To Join The Oscar 'Club'
In my review of HBO's The Normal Heart, I said how Dallas Buyers Club only has a few high points but doesn't really succeed in the other departments. So, I figured I'd finally do my review of Dallas Buyers Club and discuss where I thought it failed where The Normal Heart succeeded.
Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story about a hustler named Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) who finds out that he has AIDS. When he refuses to be treated by the drug AZT, he then crosses to the border of Mexico where he discovers drugs that are illegal but work more strongly. That is where he forms a bond with a transvestite named Rayon (Jared Leto) and forms the Dallas Buyers Club, which is where Ron and Rayon charge a membership fee but give the drugs for free.
What I Liked About It:
Now, the thing that I thought was the high point of the film was the actors. Matthew McConaughey was nothing short of brilliant as Ron Woodroof, who initially goes from being a homophobic asshole and having a heart of stone to having a heart of gold. Jared Leto really becomes his character of Rayon physically and had me forgetting I was watching an actor when he comes on screen. Jennifer Garner is also good in this film and gives a more quiet performance as Dr. Eve Saks, the film's moral center. The actors are all astounding and are easily the best part of the film.
What I Didn't Like About It:
Now, here is what I didn't like about the film. First off, it gets very slow and when I saw this in the theater, there were times where I would drift and look away from the screen. Next, while I thought Leto's transformation into the character of Rayon was something to behold and I don't want to take anything away from his portrayal, I thought the role of Rayon itself was problematic. To me, Rayon was mainly used as a sassy sidekick and a plot device for Woodroof to undergo a character arc. So, I thought the role itself was a bit too "on the nose". Ron's arc brings me to my next problem. Another problem I had was how I felt the film doesn't tell us whether or not Ron was actually gay which makes his arc somewhat confusing. If they showed us that he was, then the film would've shown a self-loathing homosexual learning the error of his ways. But if he wasn't, his arc shown in the film would make more sense. You have something similar in Philadelphia, except that Tom Hanks is playing the man with AIDS, while Denzel Washington plays a homophobe learning the error of his ways. In that, it is made clear Hanks' character is gay and Washington's is a homophobe. Here, I was just left confused wondering "Is he or is he not?". It's not something I'm dying to know, I just would love to see some logic behind the main character arc.
You see what made The Normal Heart so powerful is how it is done from the point of view from the gay community, which hasn't really been done before, and gives us an insight into the people suffering AIDS themselves. Plus, while the main character was as aggressive as how Woodroof is portrayed in the film, he didn't need to go through an arc to gain sympathy from the audience. Plus, while that film showcases the horrors of AIDS by revealing AIDS patients with several lesions, possibly leaving some to think it is done to gain sympathy from its audience, it only does it to not sugarcoat the situation. As I have said, whenever I see a film dealing with a social movement or issue, I am all about showing and not telling, and in Dallas Buyers Club, I felt they did more of the latter than the former.
Overall, Dallas Buyers Club is a brilliantly acted yet highly problematic drama. It is painfully slow at times and at times, feels emotionally manipulative, but it worth a watch only, and I mean ONLY, for its fantastic performances from McConaughey, Leto, and Garner. It's kind of "been there, done that", but it is far from horrible.