In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease.In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease.In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is diagnosed with the disease.
Happily the truth is that, although there is an element of this, the film doesn't overplay to this side of its nature and instead delivers a remarkable straight telling without too much excess. The character of Ron is a hustler first and everything else second and this doesn't change once he finally gets through the "bargaining, anger, denial, acceptance" stages of his diagnosis. As a result his efforts to bring in the drugs are not done out of some selfless act of wanting to help others as he prepares to meet his maker, but rather as part of his own fight for life he hits on a scheme to make money – and for the majority of the film this is the case. This central truth to the character really works to rob the film of sentimentality of him and therefore of the wider situation and it makes for a better film because we are engaged because we are interested rather than becomes a sweeping musical score or "Oscar clip" moment tells us to feel something. It does still do this and it does still bring out the sense of people struggling to live while the structure supposed to help them does little about it, but it does so in a way that is refreshingly free of smaltz.
Although this is a strength, it should also be said that the film doesn't manage to bring it all together as well as it should given the subject matter. It just feels like it falls a few steps short of greatness in terms really delivering an emotional punch that informs on the individual and the bigger picture at the same time – it does do this, but it is more consistent rather than building to this. Despite this it still works and although it lacks these real highs of delivery, it was functional and successful and I appreciated the lack of easy sentiment. The performances match this and in particular McConaughey gets the tone of the film and by return sets it. He is great, not because of the weight loss but because he delivers an unsympathetic character and convinces as him whether he is raging in denial, hustling or hurting. He is the heart of the film and it works as well as it works thanks a lot to him. The support characters are never more than supporting though, but of course Leto is strong in his role – not because he cross-dresses, but because he is the character and he makes Rayon about much more than the appearance. Zahn, Garner, O'Neill, Dunne and other recognizable faces all do solid work but primarily this is McConaughey's film.
Dallas Buyers Club may not be perfect but it is consistent and it is engaging. I appreciate that it never resorts to easy smaltz or cheap sentimentality and it seems perfectly fine with its flawed character being flawed throughout the film. It is a well told story which links well from the individual's story into the bigger picture, even if it doesn't quite impact at that level as it could have done. Within the solid and effective frame of this story, McConaughey then seals the deal with a really strong lead performance as he takes yet another massive leap away from being that guy leaning against the title on the bus poster.
- bob the moo
- Feb 8, 2014