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Dallas Buyers Club - Film Review

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by Gill Oscar (subscribe)
'So many worlds, so much to do, so little done, such things to be'. (Tennyson)
Published January 31st 2014
Three true stories that deserve to be seen

'Based on a True Story' seems to be a flavour of the month with this season's new film releases. Think "12 Tears a Slave", "Philomena", "The Wolf of Wall Street:", "Saving Mr Banks", "Captain Phillips" and "The Railway Man." There's more in store too. Think "Tracks", "The Monuments Men" and 'Mandela: The Long Road to Freedom".

"Dallas Buyers Club", to be released in Australia on Feb 13 2014, has two true stories to capture the viewer.

The first is the story of the film, which follows Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a Texan electrician, rodeo man and renowned 'pussy lover' in the days leading up to and months following his unexpected and life-shattering diagnosis of HIV/AIDs. This occurred in the mid 1980s, a time in history when all the doctors could say was, "Go home and get your affairs in order. You have thirty days to live." In a place where extreme 'homo'-phobia combined with the widespread fear of contagion through contact with sufferers, Woodroof was cast out by his friends, with the exception of the local cop (Steve Zahn).

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof
Image Source: Pinnacle Films

Woodroof applied the character you need to ride a bucking bronco and a level of smarts no one anticipated from a redneck braggadocio in audacious strategies to prolong his life and that of fellow sufferers, for whom he acquires and distributes off-market medications through a 'Buyers' Club'. The story of his fights against the disease and the American health and drug licensing systems is complemented by the stories of the two other characters played by marquee actors, and their relationships with Woodroof.

Jared Leto as Rayon and Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof
Image Source: Pinnacle Films

Jennifer Garner, in the only female role of note in the film, plays Dr Eve Saks, a physician who displays genuine care for her patients, and has concerns about drug testing regimes that are being fast tracked in the search for a cure to AIDS and a fortune for the drug companies. Garner is unconvincing as a doctor from her first line of medical speak, however she applies her usual schtick as the kind, caring female in an uncaring world. If you like her as an actress, you'll like her here. If not, there's nothing to make you a fan. But she is not challenged in the role, because the real interest lies elsewhere.

Jennifer Garner as Eve
Image Source: Pinnacle Films

The interest lies with Woodroof and the remarkable character of Rayon (Jared Leto), a transexual HIV sufferer who becomes Woodroof's business partner in the Dallas Buyers Club, and the catalyst for Woodroof to demonstrate some gentility and heart alongside his take-no-prisoners words and actions. It's a memorable role, portrayed with conviction and compassion by Jared Leto.

Jared Leto as Rayon
Image Source: Pinnacle Films

The second true story associated with the film has attracted as much attention as the film itself, and that is the story of what both McConaughey and Leto did to prepare for their roles. If you've seen either actor before, you cannot not think of this second true story as you watch the film.

Matthew McConaughey, once considered a lightweight romantic comedy lead, with a southern drawl that, like Holly Hunter, was both calling card and limitation, has turned in some powerhouse performance of late. Not just in his acting but in his imposing physical stature. To see the muscular physique shown off in its glory in films like "Magic Mike", "Mud" and "Killer Joe" shrunken beyond belief in this role does more than any script or direction could do to underscore the physical degradation wrought by HIV/AIDS when treatment fails. You can see why the Hair and Make-up artists won a Golden Globe as his trademark curls are replaced by very bad hair days.

Image Source: Pinnacle Films

Leto too underwent a physical transformation for the role, both by losing a significant amount of weight and, apparently, by staying in role as a transexual throughout the shoot. His is the most demanding role in all but screen time, with the emotional arcs of his character's story, including the highs and lows of drug abuse and a poignant meeting with his estranged father. And while McConaughey's performance is excellent, Leto's is dazzling.

There's a third true story that also brings credit to the film and the film makers. "Dallas Buyers Club" has been a long time coming. Scriptwriter Craig Borten was inspired by meeting the real Ron Woodroof before his eventual death in the 1990s. Columbia and Universal studios had both taken on the project then backed away, as had actors Brad Pitt and Woody Harrelson in tandem with different directors. The film was finally made in straitened circumstances, having lost its funding less than three months before production was due to start. The shoot took less than four weeks, with cameras rolling all the time and no opportunity for endless re-takes. The urgency with which the film came together reflects the urgency with which Woodroof went about trying to buy himself more time at the start of the film. The fight shown by the team to find a last-minute backer and to get the film made is brought to life on screen through the fights each character had to tackle.

French-Canadian Director Jean-Marc Vallée

Ultimately Dallas Buyers Club is a film that all involved can be proud of. French-Canadian Director Jean-Marc Vallée ("The Young Victoria" & "Cafe de Flore") has presented an assured and compelling film. At 117 minutes it is perhaps slightly too long, failing to hold my full attention throughout the long middle section about the Buyers' Club operations. However this is more than compensated for in the rest of the film.

The wasting efforts of the two leads, McConaughey and Leto, have certainly not been wasted.

All images appear courtesy of Pinnacle films.
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*Gill Oscar was invited as a guest
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Why? Great acting and astonishing transformations
When: From Feb 13th 2014
Where: At the movies or in your lounge room later on
Cost: Find a special offer to reduce the prince
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