Dallas Buyers Club

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Since Matthew McConaughey jumped the mainstream track and took on challenging roles in unconventional fare starting with Killer Joe and Bernie in 2011 followed by Mud and Magic Mike in 2012, the actor’s skills and ambition have been building toward his playing AIDS patient/activist Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club. It’s a career-defining performance and, if he doesn’t get his Oscar nomination for it, he never will. The rest of Dallas Buyers Club, though, is a more pedestrian run-through of honorable themes in material that feels like its been over-workshopped in screenwriting labs.

A regular at local rodeos, Woodroof is also known for his womanizing, gambling and all-around partying ways when he isn’t working his day job as an electrician and trash-talking fags. Then, after being taken to a hospital following an on-the-job accident, Woodroof finds out he’s got AIDS, and, by all measures, he should be dead. This is all happening in the midst of the ’80s AIDS scare, when it was still deemed a gay disease. Woodroof hits the local library and reads a whole bunch of articles and reflects on all the risky sex he’s had. That all throws on the lightbulb in his head. We can see him face palming himself in our minds.

Meanwhile, there are two doctors in the movie: One good and one bad. The good one is Dr. Eve Saks, played by Jennifer Garner who lulls us with her on-par adorability, who becomes mother hen to dying patients taking part in the hospital’s AZT trials and eventually Woodroof’s confidante and cheerleader. The bad one is Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare), the tool for the pharmaceuticals eager to push AZT onto the AIDS-stricken. These characters are painted in such broad, black-and-white strokes that labeling their purpose in the story pretty much sums up their breadth and depth. Every character in Dallas Buyers Club can be thus condensed: Tucker, Woodroof’s cop friend, is the hard-ass cop with a heart of gold; T.j., Woodroof’s drinking buddy and wing man; and so on. Then you’ve got Jared Leto putting on dress and make-up and doing his damnedest for his own Oscar nomination as troubled transvestite Rayon, who forms an unlikely business partnership with Woodroof. Of all the movie’s performances, his is the weakest, the most egregious plea for awards attention.

Speaking of business, it’s what the movie boils down to: Woodroof’s scammy attempt to start up a club in which he can supply members with alternative meds and vitamins, stuff that the FDA either hasn’t approved or can’t profit from. So, the movie is also a critique of the profit motive of the pharmaceutical business, personified in the cliche of the hard-ass drug enforcement agent Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill). Yes, it’s as tiresome as that. And how Woodroof goes about running this underground operation evokes elements of Catch Me if You Can as he jet-sets and cons whoever he has to to get the drugs he needs–for no reason other than to make him an appealingly gonzo character.

There’s nothing terribly bad about Dallas Buyers Club. It is exactly what the ads tell you it is. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s for upscale moviegoers who’re after something substantial and “important,” but then realize that what they sat through was a lumbering, shallow TV Movie of the Week. And this is as good a time as any to mention that I’ve never been a fan of McConaughey. He’s obvious, heavy-handed and seems to revel in his obnoxious Texan twang (put so far to its only good use in the actor’s first role in Dazed and Confused) with its irritatingly enunciated “S’s”. Every smile, glance and audible exhalation is telegraphed as if to communicate to us that he’s an actor up on the screen playing a role, in case you were wondering. He’s well-meaning, sure, but he’s not a persuasive actor in anything in which I’ve seen him.

The best thing I can say for McConaughey as Woodroof is that he most successfully disappears into the role. He evokes emotional shades and employs silences, a sense of humility in the character that I’d till now not seen. The sheer awfulness of everything else in the film can be blamed on Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s paint-by-numbers script, which really wants to create a noble picture of its subject but lacks the subtlety and imagination to do so, and on Jean-Marc Vallée’s infuriatingly bland direction, which has all the inquisitive power of a children’s board book.

When I first saw Dallas Buyers Club, I thought, “OK, that was relatively interesting and harmless.” But the more I’ve reflected on it, the more its crimes became nakedly obvious. Using the controversial and difficult nature of its subject matter as a facade for what is just half-baked product, it is everything cheap, shallow and pandering about American independent cinema.

Grade: C-

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Griffin Dunne

18 comments

  1. Wow, what a vapid review. Clearly missing the heart & soul of the film, which coincidentally every other critic managed to capture. This film was tangible from start to finish. Perhaps it’s the subject manner in which you weren’t comfortable with (leading the sheltered life you lead?) but seeing how moved so many were by the performances and narrative, I think you are the outlier. As is your generic review.

    1. so the only way someone can dislike this movie is if they are a homophobic bigot with a sheltered life? Maybe you could try to be a little more open minded to other peoples viewpoints and opinions..

    1. The reviewer is a massive idiot. IT’S A TRUE STORY. How old are you btw? It was a super gritty impactful film that has stayed wtih me for the last 3 days. You should be fired and your life destroyed.

      1. Come on. ‘You should be fired and your life destroyed?’ This is a review. You don’t have to agree with it whatsoever. But wishing something like that on someone else over a movie review is really uncalled for.

      2. It was not a true story. it was “loosley based on true events”, which can mean anything.

  2. I’m not sure if you know what a review is. This was an event/story derived from facts. “Paint by numbers script’? Did you want the film to have been taken place in outer space? What about the events, delivered in chronological order, did you want the film makers alter or change to make it less, well, chronological? The film is raw, I’ll grant you that but, c’mon man, if you’re going to call it out for “paint by numbers” film making, you must provide the reasons why it is so. Better luck on your next review

    1. Derived from facts? Do you really believe you can fight something as massive as AIDS with vitamins and protein solutions? Or that medical practitioners in general are so ruthlessly greedy as to poison their patients with useless panaceas that are more toxic than useful, denying them real medication? The only known remedies for AIDS are a cocktail of megadrugs that merely control the disease- not cure it. And they were painstakingly developed over a lengthy period of time using conventional methods, by people much like the ones portrayed as monsters in the ‘factual’ film. This reviewer is simply more astute than you are in recognizing what is glaringly wrong in some overrated movies, and deserves recognition for that, not scorn.

      1. You need to see the documentary “How to Survive a Plague.” It tells a story about AIDS that is much closer to the Dallas Buyers Club version than the one you’re peddling above. The FDA fiddled around with bureaucratic testing processes while AIDS victims were dying; citizen activism finally forced the government’s hand. Dallas Buyers Club certainly plays up the “villainy” to the FDA and drug companies — but there’s some truth to the accusation, at least from the point of view of people who couldn’t afford to wait because they would die.

      2. Hi Tom, thank you for your comment. I haven’t seen that doc, but I’ve heard of it and, now that you mention it, I’d like to check it out. As for my criticism of DBC, it’s not that these bureaucratic snafus weren’t going on, it’s the way it’s presented in the movie that annoyed me. I’m not arguing against the facts of the matter, but against the easy, movie-of-the-week approach the movie had (for me, at least) toward the whole tragic situation. To me, it’s the screenplay and the direction that really sank DBC.

      3. No offense, but you’re quite mistaken, Rae. FDA, Insurance companies and other biggie drug suppliers have worked their A** off to ensure their patients stay ill for their entire life or.effected with misleading drugs supplied in the market. That’s how they make money. Remember, the film is based on a story that happened back in 80s’, when anti-retroviral drugs were still on a test phase with loads of setback results.

    2. Christ, you people are dumb. A Hollywood film “INSPIRED by a true story” is not a factualk count by count of an actual story, and this most certainly isn’t. Regardless, script adaptations of a true story still do have to develop a script from a true story, and have a zilion things they can do with it. The reviewer mujst be sitting there shaking his head at these comments. You people don’t understand film, at all.

  3. How can you say about McConaughey that, “He’s obvious, heavy-handed… Every smile, glance and audible exhalation is telegraphed as if to communicate to us that he’s an actor on screen playing a role…” and, then, in the very next paragraph say, “The best thing I can say for McConaughey as Woodroof is that he most successfully disappears into the role.” ? He can’t be obviously acting if he successfully disappears into the role.
    I thought McConaughey was great and will get an Oscar nomination.
    If you thought this true story was a shallow, movie-of-the-week, you are a bad movie critic, and just a good critic.

  4. thank you for your honest review of this film. it’s remiss to consider a movie good because the story is important. the fact is the writers lost me when the character immediately stopped having sex following the initial diagnosis that he didn’t believe. the writers seemed to want to start off with a “prejudice hick” and move towards a true humanitarian. face angry commenters, the writers didn’t give a convincing character arc for anyone.

    1. He didn’t immediately stop having sex, he was too sick to do it… as the story progresses and he gets better, thanks to the non-approved drugs he is importing illegally, he resumes his sexual conquests. Did you really see the movie?

  5. You’veclearly mentioned your dislike for McConaughey in your review, therefore, it’s obvious for you to sound biased. Mr. Antani, to me, you sound like an audience who still compare modern cinema with outdated social prejudices and norms. Clearly and sadly to say, mainstream Hollywood cinema is not your cup of tea.

  6. McConaughey, a Texan, playing a Texan in a film set in Texas and you admit to not being a fan of him or his ‘obnoxious’ Texan twang…….impartiality was never going to be a feature of this review was it. I salute your honesty in admitting as much though. You contradict yourself massively when you say he acts so we all know he’s acting and THEN (next paragraph in fact) that he disappears into the role but that’s hardly a surprise given the thinly veiled invective in your review. What I would love to know, and what reviewers (the overly critical ones) never seem able to do is offer alternatives to the things that so annoyed them. Should he have spoken with a different accent? How would you have played Leto’s weak role differently? It’s easy to sit and spout but much harder to suggest improvement.

    I and my wife thought it was a good film, not a great just good. Wifey was shocked at McConaugheys weight loss a la Christian Bale in the Machinist and on the whole we thought it was quite understated and sensitively handled. It’s a dramatization of true events and the characters felt true to me. McConaughey going absolutely off sex when he gets the news rang very true. If you just got a death sentence as a result of where you put your 5-8 inches the last thing you would want is to be friends with it. Leto plays the transvestite very sensitively, not over-camping it nor appearing scared to take on the role and is a good snapshot of the movie as a whole. It’s not over the top or over reliant on wringing tears out of you at every turn. And when the tender moment between the two protagonists does eventually come it’s all the more meaningful for it. We know Woodroof is a redneck homophobe and we get that Rayon is anathema to him at the outset of their relationship but nothing feels forced. You can get used to and grow to like or even love anyone if you spend enough time with them. All in all I’d say 7.5 out of 10 for the movie and a solid 8 for the cast.

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