Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

By Sati. Tuesday, February 4, 2014 , , , , , , ,
There's been a lot of movies about survival in 2013. In All is Lost Robert Redford was trying to survive on an open sea. In Captain Phillips Tom Hanks was abducted by Somali pirates, who were hoping for ransom. In Gravity Sandra Bullock was floating in space and desperately looking for ways to return to Earth. In 12 Years a Slave Solomon Northup had to endure the terrors of slavery in order to stay alive. Nature, greed, space, hatred. All as relentless and vicious as a disease. But at this time - 1985, in this place - Dallas - this disease was also something those four things weren't - unbeatable.

30 days to live. That's the diagnosis an ordinary guy, Ron Woodroof, gets when he is admitted to hospital after passing out and hearing ringing in his ears. His first response is that he is not a 'faggot'. But after Ron does some research he realizes he probably caught the virus while enjoying unprotected sex with many different women. Ron realizes he really is sick and there is no cure. But he refuses to give up.
Ron looks for answers and help on his own - he finds out there are drugs out there that are far more effective than what people with HIV are given in hospitals. During one of his hospital visits he meets transgender HIV patient Rayon, who in spite of Ron's aggressive an homophobic remarks, shows him kindness.

Ron decides to smuggle the effective drugs to US and treat himself as well as others - sure, for a fee, as his main concern, at least at first, isn't being a good Samaritan. So he starts a club and makes Rayon his business partner. The idea of a club is you have to pay to join but then the drugs are free. Because of the drugs being unapproved and the distribution of them being illegal, pretty soon soulless FDA and the doctors start making things even more difficult for Ron.
As with the most incredibly moving stories, the movie is based on real events. Ron Woodroof and Dallas Buyers Club really existed. A month before Ron died screenwriter Craig Borten interviewed him to create the screenplay. Borten recorded many hours of interviews with Woodroof and had access to his personal journals. Then he attempted to attract interest in making the film in the mid 1990s, with Dennis Hopper to direct and Woody Harrelson as Woodroof, but the film was unable to secure financial backing.

In the late 1990s Marc Forster was approached to direct and Brad Pitt was set to play the role of Ron and then in 2008 director Craig Gillespie and Ryan Gosling were in talks with the producers until Jean-Marc Vallée and Matthew McConaughey signed up.Woodroof's sister was reportedly pleased with the casting of McConaughey because he had a similar swagger and personality; she had shown concern when Pitt was attached, due to his physique, and Gosling, because of his personality. I'm glad the part went to Matthew - others considered are fine actors but none of them has his effortless charm.
McConaughey is the real star of the show here, apart from Woodroof himself, the man who literally cheated death for many years and managed to beat the odds. McConaughey helped get this movie made and his commitment to the part is quite astonishing. He lost 47 pounds for this film and it's quite horrific how different he looks here. The guy we always saw in fine suits or showing off his bare muscular chest in romantic comedies, not only became this gaunt looking character he is playing but also, over the last 5 years, a damn fine and daring actor.

Normally I don't fall for this kind of stuff. Actors putting themselves through hell, losing outrageous amounts of weight, shaving their heads, wearing make up that makes them look awful. For me it's the performance that counts. It's the story that counts. I don't really have respect for multiple shenanigans Christian Bale has been doing over the years (remember when he couldn't get nominated for Oscar no matter how many worms he ate and how many pounds he lost?), because they are quite frankly distracting and take you away from this movie. It actually makes it more difficult for me to be impressed with performance and disregard all those attention seeking details.
The reason why all those drastic transformation works here is because of hugely entertaining script that is so gripping it doesn't really give you time to register just how much McConaughey and Leto sacrificed to play these people. Another thing I appreciated is that unlike in films like The Machinist, the camera doesn't masochistically linger on characters' skinny, ill bodies. It's not gratuitous Oscar baiting - it's simply acting and becoming the characters

And then there is the character of Ron himself. This is such a great character - I hate homophobia so damn much but it was impossible for me to dislike Ron. Sure, he was an asshole to those people but you know what? At least he was honest. If you had those remarks he made mixed with him killing or beating these people it would be awful. But Ron helped them. He kept them alive. The script doesn't make the moronical decision to have Ron change his opinion - he is still disgusted by the gay people but he also understands they are in this battle together and they have to unite.
There are two really lovely moments in the movie, showing that unity, that truly moved me - the first one is when Ron and Rayon are shopping and one of Ron's old buddies refuses to shake Rayon's hand. Ron grabs his old friend and twists his hand telling him to 'shake his hand' (there seem to be a lot of cry babies having issue with Ron referring to Rayon as a male not female - dry your tears and use your brain, that's my advice to these people). Then there is the hug scene. It's not about gender, sexuality, beliefs. It's about a fight these two souls share.

The relationship between Ron and Rayon is handled in such a realistic and touching way. You really see these two forming a bond, working together and caring about each other, in their own, unique ways. This also provides a lot of humorous situations - such as Rayon adding pictures of guys to Ron's display of images he masturbates to and the whole 'cranberry mocha' conversation.
As much as I did love the character of Ron, I wish Rayon was written a bit better. He is not based on a real person, but several people Ron worked with. I don't understand why the writers didn't take this opportunity to flesh out his character a little more. His pivotal scene, in which he talks to his father and asks him for money to repay Ron for his kindness, is very good but much too short. I felt like that scene was a missed opportunity to show Rayon's background. I don't think Jared Leto's work here merits an Oscar, which he will get for this, because of the writing and the fact this could have been such better written character, but he was really great in the role.

Another underwritten character is doctor Eve, sweet and lovely woman who is very compassionate towards her patients unlike the boss who only cares about clinical trials. Eve is essentially a plot device - she sits, drinks wine and watches TV where they talk about what people of AIDS are protesting against and FDA deals.
Eve is played by Jennifer Garner and I thought it's a real shame how little she has to do, because this could have been such a good character and performance. There is a truly lovely date scene between Ron and Eve, but McConaughey is given such great material in this moment that Garner is essentially coming off like a blank canvas of which his brilliance bounces off. Still, I thought Garner did very well. I have no idea what people's problem is with her delivery of "He was my friend too!" line - I thought it was a lovely, honest and powerful moment.

With all those flaws the script is still something to praise here. The fact that the film deals with such awful things and manages to stay funny, lively and uplifting is incredible. There are all those light and humorous scenes like Ron pretending to be a priest as well as his witty and funny lines - I couldn't even feel bad when I laughed at his 'look after this fucking monkey' line which was him referring to Rayon.
Dallas Buyers Club is such an entertaining and inspiring ride - it's not your usual movie about HIV and dying. Featuring fantastic performance from McConaughey, amazing story and uplifting tone, the film can bring you to tears but it won't break your heart. It will fill it with a sense of hope.

There are so many people who would give up after hearing they have days left to live. But not Ron. He kept fighting. He kept living.

Just keep living.

(Dallas Buyers Club, dir. Jean-Marc Vallé, 2013, 117 min.)
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38 comments:

  1. Once again, amazing work Sati! Great write up. I can't wait to get my hands on this.

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    1. Thanks, hope you'll like the movie!

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  2. I really agree with you about Garner and Leto here - it was such a shame that Garner's character wasn't developed enough and I think the script let them both down a little. While my expectations were maybe too high, I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by the performances in this - McConaughey was excellent but I was just generally a little disappointed by the film as a whole. My review should be up tomorrow but I think I went into this one with way too high expectations.

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    1. I honestly didn't expect much, I thought this is the usual bleak HIV movie and the tone of the film was such a delightful surprise.

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  3. I liked the movie a lot. I especially liked the sound editing of that ringing tone he kept hearing throughout the movie, something eery about it. Also, I think Leto's character was well written as a whole, not a lot of background which made his character a bit mysterious and I don't know, it felt right.

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    1. Well yeah he was mysterious, but I think the glaring hole in the script regarding his character wasn't intentional.

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  4. I was really surprised by the film and how touching it was. McConaughey impressed the hell out of me as it proved how great he is. I like his swagger and never-give-up attitude. I loved that shot of him inside that room of butterflies. That was beautiful.

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    1. I thought those were moths, a symbol of death, considering the placing of that moment it was kinda heavy handed but the shot was indeed very beautiful so I can't complain about that scene.

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  5. Nice review of a beautiful movie (or so I have heard). I still haven't seen it yet. Glad to see McConaughey in the part though and not Pitt or Gosling.... That'd be weird.

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    1. Gosling and Pitt would be completely wrong for the part, especially Gosling.

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  6. Nice review, Margaret! I quite liked how little Jennifer was used (not in a mean/bad way) and Jared. Since the movie is mostly about Ron, I liked how it kept the focus on him surviving whatever little time he had left, letting people in closer to him than before, and his ability to make an impact on them. For me the ending was a bit too abrupt though; just the court scene and then a resolution. I would've liked to have seen a little bit more of that before the FDA is reprimanded for investigating him without warrant.

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    1. I kinda liked the ending since at that point it was actually stating to be a bit horrific looking at Matt like that I adored the fact they didn't show him die - because this is a film about life, not death.

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  7. Fantastic review my friend. This was definitely a performance driven movie. I thought the story hit a few speed bumps in the second half but the performances are always solid.

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    1. Thank you, glad you liked the performances!

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  8. Great review, Sati. I agree on your analysis of method actors losing or gaining weight - also receives a big yawn from me. I care about the acting, not the physical transformation. And here I think the actors are universally terrific.

    I even think Rayon and Eve a bit better developed than you do, though I also think this has a few flaws. It is a excellent, though not quite perfect, movie.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah for me the performance has to be really good to overshadow something so stupid one does to their bodies.

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  9. Good review Sati. McConaughey and Leto are great in this and show us exactly why they deserve all of the awards they're going to get. Shame that the movie itself isn't as up to their league, but it's still compelling enough to watch.

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  10. Matthew McConaughey needs to win the Oscar this year. Period. He had one of the best years of his career.

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    1. He really does and hopefully he will! :)

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  11. We finally get this this week and I can't wait to see it, McConaughey is one of my favourite actors right now. Great review as always!

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  12. Sounds like a good film. Thanks for the review. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

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  13. Great review! I love what you said about actors who put their bodies through hell. I'm not a huge fan of it either, but you are right in how this film isn't really gratuitous about it. I love how your graphic turned out too! With the moths.

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    1. Thank you! Moths image took some time but yeah it turned out nicely :)

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  14. Great review, girl. I'm glad you liked this one too! I agree with what you argue regarding the dramatic weight transformations in film--it's noticeable here, but not overwhelmingly distracting. The actors become so engrossed in their characters, that it's more about who that character is than baiting for an Oscar like some movies do. I read somewhere that Jared Leto was so in character, that he left set on a lunch break as Rayon and went to Whole Foods where he got countless stares....THAT'S why he deserves the Oscar. He let that character fully become him, and he did such great work, as did McConaughey.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah I read that about Jared too, he seems like an adventurous guy :P I really like the banter he had with Matt, such cool chemistry.

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  15. Wonderful review! Wow, that's a great opening paragraph there Sati and so agree, this disease is still sadly unbeatable :( I'm glad this role went to McConaughey as now I can't imagine anyone else in this role. I think even McConaughey probably surprised himself how he's able to embody his character. I haven't seen it but even from the clips he looked very convincing. He WILL win the Oscar this year, it's almost a mathematical certainty.

    "The fact that the film deals with such awful things and manages to stay funny, lively and uplifting is incredible." It reminds me a bit of 50/50 where Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character was diagnosed w/ brain cancer. Yet the film wasn't a downer and there were some hilarious moments to take the edge off from such a dismal subject matter.

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    1. Thank you! I hope he will win. DiCaprio doesn't deserve it. He was amazing in Wolf but he wasn't nearly as good as Matt. It's a bit weird how everyone is jumping on 'overdue' bandwagon for Leo. He isn't fucking overdue, he isn't even 40 yet.

      50/50 was a bit different - there were some funny moments there but here the entire tone of the movie is very hopeful.

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  16. I really liked Jared Leto's work here, but I agree that his character could have been better developed. McConaughey was nothing like I expected, truly impressive.

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    1. Have you seen his movies from the last 5 years or so? He's been doing such amazing work!

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    2. Just Magic Mike, which was awesome but this is completely different! I need to see Mud and Killer Joe

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    3. Oh these two are great! Killer Joe is my #2 of 2012 and Mud #4 of 2013

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  17. Great review Sati. We share a few similarities here. The history of this film is definitely worth mentioning and how well they've managed to finally bring it all together. Matt was on top form here and I'm really rooting for him to get the Oscar. Loved what you said about this being the year of the survival movie. Spot on there.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah there were so many films out there focusing on someone's struggle to stay alive. And they were really doing a great job with that aspect.

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  18. Excellent review! The worst thing about this filmis the script, but the cast delivers solid work. I don't mind Leto winning, as he gives my favorite performance in the film. The more I think about McConaughey's performance, the less I love it. He's great and all, but I think much of the hype has been attributed to his weight loss. Apart from that, I don't see it as a performance that merits so much awards attention. I'd rather him get it for Mud.

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    1. Thank you! Honestly I think if Matt was made to look skinny just with make up, without weight loss, it would change nothing. The film never focuses on that, it's just something that happens. It was a complex guy to play and he made him feel so real.

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