'THE DALLAS BUYERS CLUB' (R) (4 STARS) (HIGHEST RATING)
Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Directed by Jean-Marc Valee
Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Deni O'Hare, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Rankin.
Movies can transport us back to a time of our lives and a period of time that we have forgotten existed, that has evaporated from our minds. The best movies take you back to a time and effectively puts you in a certain era and teaches you something you didn't know. "The Dallas Buyers Club" is one of those great movies, it moved me, taught me a lot and effectively put me in a time and place that enveloped me and introduced me to people I would come to care about deeply. This is a fascinating movie and a very entertaining movie despite it's bleak subject matter.
"The Dallas Buyers Club" tells the true story of electrician and rodeo star Ron Woodroof who in 1986 was infected with the HIV-AIDS virus. Ron partied hard and definitely scored with a lot of women, having unprotected sex with them all, but Ron explains to a doctor that he is in no way a homosexual. Ron is a very homophobic man and a lesser movie would just be about how Ron learns to accept homosexuals as equals by living through a disease that was once thought of as only affecting homosexuals. "The Dallas Buyers Club" is much better than that, it follows Ron's change of heart and lifestyle but it also taught me a lot about the disease, the drugs used to try to curb the disease and what Ron finds in other countries, other forms of unapproved medicine that could help him.
Ron will also set up a club called "The Dallas Buyers Club" where HIV infected people could pay a monthly membership fee and Ron would then provide them with alternative medicine. Ron will strike up an unusual friendship with a transvestite named Rayon who will help him with the club's business. Ron will go to Japan and to Mexico to find alternative medicine with the FDA, police and doctors trying to stop them. My joy in watching this movie was learning about this time in history and the drugs that were available, but not FDA approved. We have seemed to ignore this period in time as it pertains to this horrible disease that changed us and a lot of others. The movie jolted me to my seat and I was fascinated by the subject matter, enthralled like I was watching an intense thriller. I was riveted by what I was learning and fascinated by all the characters and Ron's journey.
The pulse of the movie, that made it so special for me, was the two lead characters and the magnificent performances by Matthew McConaughey as Ron and Jared Leto as Rayon. These are two of my favorite characters I have spent time with in a movie and two of the best and most lived in performances I have seen. The heart of the movie is the developing friendship between the once homophobic Ron and the open hearted Rayon. McConaughey has now emerged as one of the best actors of my generation with his amazing performance here. Though I am not talking about the 40 pounds he lost for the role, I am talking about how he becomes Ron. His McConaughey southern drawl is there but he also disappears into his role. He is matched by the wonderful Jared Leto who we grow to love and respect because of Leto's way of not holding back but also touching us emotionally.
Ron and Rayon's friendship reminded me of the central friendship between Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy" but I love this friendship and movie much more. There is also a small subplot of a love story between Ron and a doctor who tries to help him, solidly played by Jennifer Garner. Critics have complained that this plot development of a minor, almost budding romance is manufactured but I strongly disagree. We come to love Ron as much as she does and the wonderful screenplay by first timer Melisa Wallack and Craig Barten doesn't turn the subplot into a major love story, they scale the romance back. It is also a touching and effective emerging friendship and respect instead of a head over heels romance.
My favorite movies transport me back to a time and place that fascinates me and introduces me to people I wish I could have known and that I grow to love and respect. "The Dallas Buyers Club" is such a movie, it kept me enraptured for the entire running time. I didn't find any major missteps and the movie may seem long but I never wanted it to end, a mark of a great movie indeed. I loved the performances by McConaughey and Leto so much I now might put them as my front runners for Best Actor and Supporting Actor. McConaughey and Leto never appear as they are acting, they become Ron and Rayon and with McConaughey it had to be so difficult to do. My favorite period of filmmaking is 1968-1979 where movies taught me and also moved me to tears and made me confront life, helping me grow into adulthood. "The Dallas Buyers Club" is an effective evocation of the 80's equal to what the great movies of the 70's like "All the President's Men" and "The China Syndrome" did for the 70's. Bravo!