Dallas Buyers Club (2013) – Review

For this review I’m thrilled to welcome the Screenkicker Podcast’s own resident misery-guts Chris to review Dallas Buyers Club. Will the notoriously hard to please Scotsman love it like everyone else did? Read on to find out, you might be surprised (you won’t be).

Like almost everyone going to see Dallas Buyers Club I went in with high expectations. Expectations built up by the Oscar buzz for it’s lead star Mathew McConaughey (MM), the Oscar buzz about it’s supporting star Jared Leto and the column inches about MM’s physical transformation (he shed 3 stone for the role). With all this buzz buzzing around my head I entered the cinema prepared to be overwhelmed, which to be honest is never a good way to enter a movie, because if history has taught us anything, it is that few movies rarely match their hype.

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This is how me and Chris met

Starting off in 1985, Dallas Buyers Club (DBC) is based on the real life story of Texan ‘pussy chaser’ Ron Woodroof, a man who is diagnosed with the HIV virus. With the doctors giving him only 30 days to live he is inspired to embark upon a personal mission to find the medication he needs to help prolong his life, medication that is not available in the US. Along the way he meets Rayon (Jared Leto) and they set up the eponymous ‘Dallas Buyers Club’: a membership club that provides medication not licensed in USA.

Lets deal with the buzz straight off – MM is excellent in this film, but are you surprised? After all MM has been excellent in everything since the ‘McConaissance’ started with ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’. Not only does MM give an impressive performance but also his physical transformation is remarkable. The once sun tanned and muscular Texan plays a chain smoking, coke snorting, prostitute using, emaciated rodeo rider, and to see his slight frame is quite breathtaking. Jared Leto is ok as transvestite ‘Rayon’ (ironically Mr Leto looks more masculine in this than any other role he has played) but one can’t help but wonder whether all the buzz about his performance is rooted in his physical transformation than his actual performance.

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“Hey, where did all my patients go?”

Performances aside, the biggest issue with this film is the script. We are introduced to Ron Woodroof whilst he is engaging in a threesome with 2 ‘rodeo groupies’ we then see him swigging whisky and making a run for it after robbing 10 gambling cowboys. In these opening scenes we are left in no doubt this man is a woman chasing, substance-abusing, homophobic hick. Indeed, upon hearing about his illness for the first time he responds to the Dr by saying ‘Call me a homo again I’ll whip your ass’ (or something along these lines). However within days of his diagnosis and via a trip to his local library Ron becomes both a human rights campaigner and an astute businessman, this doesn’t feel like the same cowboy we met shagging 2 woman at once but days before! I feel this is where the film falls down, the character of Ron appears to do a complete U-turn, and whilst MM is excellent throughout his character arc is quite unrealistic – or certainly feels so in a 2-hour film. Whilst some of Woodroof’s rodeo traits do resurface at points it feels a stretch to believe the same man that seemed shocked to find out that not only gay men could contract the HIV virus could go onto write a medical report about the negative health effects of AZT (an HIV drug treatment).

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The cops must have seen ‘How to lose a guy in 10 days’

Jennifer Garner stars as Eve, a Dr at the Dallas hospital. Mrs Affleck does fine in a role that doesn’t challenge, her subplot is rather weak and it feels like her role was perhaps included to get another ‘known face’ into a film that struggled to raise the money needed to get made. In fact the film does have a low budget feel about it. Many scenes take place in the same locations with characters wearing the same wardrobe, plus the obvious use of green screen to place MM in various countries across the globe, says much about the limited budget. But this isn’t a film that needs a big budget and set-pieces, it is about characters and performances and the film does well in representing (now) outdated Deep South views on homosexuals and the AIDs outbreak. Some of the film’s best scenes are when these issues are explored – including an electric scene in a supermarket when Ron bumps into a former friend who assumed he’d be dead because of his ‘pansy pulling’ illness.

This film is quite conventional in its approach and the cinematography is effective, however the sound design is another misstep. Whenever Ron begins to feel unwell the audience are treated to a tinnitus-like whine – to emphasise the point the central character is unwell…REALLY UNWELL…….WHIIIIIIIIINE. This is spider sense ‘whine in the head’ technique that is overused and grates quickly, and threatens undermine some of the good work MM does on screen.

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The transformation really is remarkable

In summary DBC is…well just OK. It is competently made, with solid performances. McConaughey is good once again, but his Oscar friendly performance doesn’t impress like his turn in Mud did. In my opinion the film never manages to overcome its central flaw: Ron Woodruff is established as a trailer trash hick and he too quickly becomes a man who dresses up as a priest and takes on the Federal Drug Agency. Yes it is based on true story, but in a 117 minute movie this character U-turn is a stretch too far – Mr McConaughey regardless of how good you’ve been lately, I’m just not buying it.

6/10

The Screenkicker Quality Index (SQI)

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23 comments

  1. Good review. The performances from both McConaughey and Leto are what’s worth seeing here, if nothing else. Sure, the rest of the movie is fine, but they are what really and fully puts this movie over that edge.

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    • It was a good review wasn’t it! haha – I agree they are worth seeing, I wish the narrative had been better, and I do feel Mud is a much better film, with a better central performance.

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    • Yeah – I was quite harsh – but I do feel the buzz about this film heightened my expectations – that and MM’s run of excellent performances.

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  2. It is a shame this film seems to push the plausibility factor within the character’s motivations a little too far but I’m still looking forward to seeing it. Anyone willing to go through what McConaughey did for this movie deserves a chance.

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  3. “…one can’t help but wonder whether all the buzz about his performance is rooted in his physical transformation than his actual performance.” I was wondering the same thing, that’s why I think Matthew’s performance in MUD is excellent as he still looks pretty much the same physically but his acting is very convincing. I might give this a rent but w/ neutral expectations.

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  4. I really enjoyed the performances and the story was interesting but gut wrenching. I agree with you on how it doesn’t seem believable enough to go from a debauchery lifestyle to trying to spearhead a movement. Frankly, he was probably just in it for the money. Great review!

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  5. hmm. “Ron Woodruff is established as a trailer trash hick and he too quickly becomes a man who dresses up as a priest and takes on the Federal Drug Agency.” Having done some research on HIV/AIDS, Woodruff’s transformation seemed completely believable to me. Nothing like staring death in the face to make you change your ways. I think the moral evolution in the movie is also backed up by the fact that Woodruff is a real person, who seemingly underwent a similar transformation. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/11/03/the-true-story-behind-dallas-buyers-club-meet-the-real-ron-woodruff.html

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  6. Good review, I want to see this but I have been on the fence about it, and now you made me really not care that I haven’t seen it. I have to I was just thinking today, MM is all of a sudden a good, notable actor again, this McConaissance came out of nowhere. I was getting used to seeing him as the shirtless hunk in girly girl movies and forgot that at one point he actually knew how to act. I like that term, I am totally gonna steal it!

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    • I’d like to say I coined it but I didn’t – can’t remember where I read it. You should still watch the movie. Glad you liked the review.

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  7. Damn, this is one of the most negative reviews that I have seen of it so far, but hey, your opinion does make a lot of sense. It did seem rushed at times! Very well written, and always enjoy seeing a unique outlook.

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  8. I think it deserves more than 6/10, it’s not a classic but it does have really quality, the insight into his fight and performance was worthy of a higher rating, but I agree with you on the jump his character takes being unbelievable. Nice work.

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