“You gotta die somehow.” – Ron Woodroof
Up next on the Oscar Nominee Watch List is Dallas Buyers Club, a movie about disease and the drive to keep living. The movie centers on Ron Woodroof, a gamblin’, bull ridin’, cocaine snortin’, whisky drinkin’, sex addicted, Texan cowboy who don’t take no scuff from no body. (Can you tell I don’t really speak Texan??) One day Ron gets electrocuted and brought to the hospital. The doctors run some blood tests and discover that Ron has AIDS. The doctor then tells Ron that he has thirty days left to live, as though he’s talking about the weather: with a complete and utter lack of empathy.
Yet, despite being given a month to live, Ron refuses to accept this fate without a fight. He spends the remaining six years- that’s right, screw 30 days- of his life fighting to help himself and fellow AIDS patients get the medication they need and that the FDA is forcibly denying them. The year is 1986.
Ron Woodroof is Matthew McConaughey’s strongest performance to date. He is completely uninhibited and has given himself over entirely to the character. Weight loss aside, McConaughey’s entire physicality is almost unrecognizable with hands on his hips, both feet planted firmly shoulder width apart, neck arched uncomfortably forward, and a look in his eyes that says, “I dare you.” And he did. Let’s be honest, McConaughey’s regular image is that of a hemp wearing, weed smoking, beach bum. But there’s not a trace of that man in Dallas. McConaughey shows all sides of Ron’s fight. From open mouth sobbing in his car to playing a preacher pretending to have cancer in order to get past boarder control.
Though the movie deals with AIDS and Ron’s fight to bring FDA unapproved drugs into the country, (which are in fact protein and vitamin supplements) that’s not necessarily what Dallas is about. For me, this movie is about Ron and his character. It’s about the man rather than his fight. The movie is sprinkled with fantastic character moments like when Ron arrives at his trailer and there’s a padlock on the door. He takes a shotgun from his trunk and blows it wide open to find it’s been ransacked. The next succession of shots is Ron frantically scavenging around his trailer for hidden pockets of money. He flips his mattress only to find that cash has already been taken. But there’s a couple bucks under the silverware, some in a crumpled pair of jeans, and even a wad in an old cassette case. Kudos to screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack because this moment is so precise and deliciously character driven.
Ron tussles back and forth between homophobia and compassion, fear and survival. And McConaughey fully commits to each one. It’s a fascinating observation of the before and the during of life changing news and how this man attempts to balance both. I mean yes, he is bringing in life saving medicine, but he’s also doing it for a profit. At least, initially.
And let me tell you, I think Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have the best on screen chemistry out of all the Oscar nominees I’ve seen thus far. They riff off one another and don’t hold back in the emotional moments. They’ve managed to find the perfect blend of insult and respect their characters need to have. And seriously, let’s take a minute to commend Jared Leto because he brought a whole new level of sass to his performance that I truly was not expecting. Rayon is all heels, wigs, blinding makeup and stockings with runs. She could have easily been over the top but Leto grounds her in real, tangible pain and humour.
There was really only one scene with which I had an issue. And you’ll know it when you see it. It involves a crap ton of Mexican butterflies. And I know there’s supposed to be a kind of quiet beauty to this scene but I just don’t think, artistically speaking, they were successful.
Other than that, I love the documentary, grittiness of the cinematography. The camera follows Ron, crashing into walls and passing out on the lawn with him. Not only that but director Jean-Marc Vallée has done all he can to make the audience feel Ron’s pain. Every time Ron has a head splitting migraine that knocks him unconscious, we hear the eerily shoulder clenching white noise alongside him.
And I think that is the biggest success of the movie. Historically, we know what these people were up against. Or at least, the information’s available. But for me, what I don’t know is what it was like for the individual. Not the statistic, not the case study, the plain and simple human being. And this is what Dallas Buyers Club offers. It just happens to be about an especially remarkable human being.
Happy Galentine’s Day artsies! Stay tuned for my review of American Hustle next Tuesday!
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