TIFF 2013: Dallas Buyers Club – Movie Review

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writer: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Runtime: 117 min
Rating: 18A

Some film performances are transformative; such are the enactments delivered by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in the new movie Dallas Buyers Club. I was fortunate enough to attend the world premier of this influential new film at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was taken in not only by the stellar performances offered by the lead actors, but also by this well-crafted film as a whole. Lead by acclaimed Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée, this piece offers an important and true story of which the world should be aware.

Dallas Buyers Club relates the story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a cocky and decidedly homophobic Texas cowboy who contracts HIV, an affliction that inevitably develops into the devastating AIDS disease. When Ron realizes how limited the treatment options for his sickness are in America, he takes matters into his own hands, beginning an international smuggling operation providing AIDS medications to those in need. After meeting Rayon (Leto), a kind but troubled and drug-addicted drag queen who shares his sickness, Ron begins to shed his biases and develops a real desire to help others who are suffering as he is.

Dallas Buyers Club

McConaughey and Leto are nearly unrecognizable as Ron and Rayon, respectively, undergoing severe and health-threatening transformations in order to accurately portray their roles. Although the emaciated Ron is severely unlikeable initially, his ignorance gradually turns to sympathy and understanding, and the audience begins to relate to him and to pity his plight. Indeed, both McConaughey and Leto deliver riveting performances from which one cannot look away. Their enactments are raw, gritty, and often emotional. The unlikely friendship that develops between Ron and Rayon offers one of the lighter and humorous aspects of what is overall a heavy film; Rayon is so likeable that nobody, not even the cranky Ron, can resist his infectious good nature. Jennifer Garner also performs well as good-hearted and eager doctor Eve Saks, who doubts that the AIDS medicine being provided in her hospital is safe. Eve genuinely desires to help her patients, including Ron and Rayon, and even begins a tentative romance with Ron, revealing a gentler side of this hard and often crass individual.  

Dallas Buyers Club

The film is structured as a countdown of the days that Ron is expected to live, and this technique serves to remind the audience of the gravity of his situation. Many scenes seek to mimic the experience of the sick individuals through blurry shots and pounding or ringing sounds, effectively creating nausea and discomfort in the audience. It is an unfortunate truth that even as recent as 1986, AIDS was still a grossly misunderstood affliction. By creating a work from the perspective of one with this disease, Vallée causes an audience to experience the difficulties that this character was forced to face right along with him.

Dallas Buyers Club is a hard-hitting film that does not try to offer the pretty side of its story, focusing on a real and accurate portrayal instead. Telling the true tale of real-life AIDS activist Ron Woodroof, this film takes its subject matter seriously, and is crafted as such. In addition, McConaughey and Leto present performances to be applauded that will be talked about for quite a while.

Photo Credits: Toronto International Film Festival