By Chaz Lipp
The first thing to get out of the way about Dallas Buyers Club, nominated for six Oscars including Best Picture, is that it does not play like a “disease of the week” type of movie. Yes, some of the movie’s central characters have HIV or AIDS. But by and large, director Jean-Marc Vallee’s film is not a chronicle of the symptoms or medical procedures. (I say this as someone who easily gets squeamish about such medical-related movies.) The surprising thing about Dallas Buyers Club is how entertaining it manages to be in spite of such potentially depressing subject matter. And Matthew McConaughey delivers incredible work as real-life AIDS patient and activist Ron Woodroof (who passed away in 1992), as does Jared Leto as his transgendered friend, Rayon.
It’s 1985 and Dallas-based rodeo rider Woodroof has just received the equivalent of a death sentence. His T-cell count was found to be extraordinarily low and the diagnosis is AIDS. Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) tells him he has 30 days to get his final affairs in order. Denial kicks in for the hard-living Woodroof, who continues drinking and doing as many drugs as he pleases. But a recent random, unprotected threesome haunts him, eventually convincing him to accept his diagnosis, if not his prognosis. He travels to Mexico to investigate alternative therapies, eventually establishing an illegal distribution system to help deliver pharmaceuticals to HIV/AIDS sufferers who couldn’t otherwise afford it. Woodroof also discovers he gets better results without the antiviral AZT that doctors were pushing as the only FDA-approved treatment.
Yes, it’s pretty grim subject matter. But it’s presented in a way that inspires, depicting a man who discovers an indomitable spirit to live. Woodroof begins the story as an unapologetic homophobe. McConaughey is completely convincing in showing how Woodroof eventually overcomes his prejudices. The “Buyers Club” is a met with legal opposition from all angles, so the film takes a compelling turn as it adds shades of courtroom drama to its character-based story. Luckily, screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack honor the real Woodroof’s efforts by sticking with the basic facts of the actual story. Leto’s Rayon is a composite intended to represent the portion of Woodroof’s clientele that he wasn’t initially comfortable with. Garner’s Dr. Saks is also a composite, effectively representing the compassionate members of the medical community that came to respect Ron’s unconventional methods.
Considering Dallas Buyers Club was a relatively low-budget production, Universal’s Blu-ray presentation it quite solid without being anything visually or sonically striking. Yves Bélanger’s cinematography looks sharp and film-like (despite being shot digitally). The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack maintains clear, intelligible dialogue without having much else to show off. Special features are unfortunately extremely limited, with only a promo-style featurette and a few deleted scenes.
Were the based-in-fact story not so compelling, Dallas Buyers Club might’ve just been a one-man acting showcase for Matthew McConaughey. His hot streak that began a few years ago is obviously still going strong (and he’s currently the front-runner to win the Best Actor Oscar, as is Leto for Best Supporting Actor). But all the elements here are equally strong, combining to make this one of the must-see movies of 2013.
Photos: Focus Features