American actors take the Oscar Awards very seriously. This is Matthew McConaughey’s serious shot at Oscar. He and his fellow actor Jared Leto have received countless accolades for their performance and have been nominated in the best actor and supporting actor categories of the Academy Awards.
This is a low budget independent film, as low as it can get from Hollywood standards. The film was developed from a newspaper report about Ron Woodroof, a cowboy, who was diagnosed as HIV positive and who managed to survive longer than expected by using non-FDA approved drugs. He also turned it into a business opportunity by creating the Dallas Buyers Club.
Since we don’t know much about Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), it’s less of a biopic for us and more of a story of a homophobic hustler and an irascible cowboy who suddenly discovers to his extreme horror and disbelief that he is HIV positive. The discovery, apart from being a call of certain death, is also humiliating as his group of friends immediately brands him a homosexual after he confides about his disease to one of his closest buddies. He is ostracized. Way back in 1984, the period the film is set in, there was no certain cure for HIV and thus he has to resort to clandestine methods to survive. There are not any HIV drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) available in the market. The one that is available, called Zidovudine (AZT), is still going through a clinical trial and thus not accessible to those who are not part of the clinical trial programme. There are alternative non-FDA approved drugs available outside the USA though.
Woodroof gets to know about them from a transgender HIV patient Rayon (Jared Leto). After some initial hesitation he becomes friends with Rayon. He starts making trips to Mexico and brings in the alternative drugs to Dallas through the border check post, posing as a priest. He forms the Dallas Buyers Club with Rayon’s help to distribute these drugs to HIV/ AIDS sufferers. This brings him in constant conflict with the FDA. He fights the FDA legally and otherwise and exposes its flawed policy towards HIV treatment. Though told that he won’t survive more than 30 days in 1984, he beats the odds, and goes on to live until 1992.
Matthew McConaughey worked hard on himself to look Woodroof. He lost a lot of weight to get an anemic reedy look of a street-smart big talking irascible and irreverent druggy. The looks were critical to the portrayal of his character and he does manage it successfully and quite creditably. Jared Leto works as hard and plays his transgender character flawlessly.
It’s the predictability of the screenplay that lets them down a bit. It turns out to be one of those regular anecdotal biopics. We don’t see much exploration into the psyches of these extra-ordinary characters beyond their clichéd slice-of-life and funny portrayals. We don’t experience much of their pain and anxieties. The focus is on events in their lives and not on them. It seems we have seen such unfolding of stories around characters of this kind a countless times, all ending predictably. If all human beings are unique and exceptional, why don’t we sense it in Hollywood films of this genre? Why does it look and sound like any other biopic?
Apart from the characterizations, it’s the songs and music that play key roles in the film. They establish the period and compliment the film’s mise-en-scène quite effectively. You don’t have to spend a fortune recreating a period. There are ways to do it even in a low budget film and songs and music can help wonderfully.
It’s a well-directed and performed film that could have been written better.
Rating : 3/5
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB Movie Review by Rajesh Kumar Singh (the author) is Editorial Consultant for Festivals and Markets for BollywoodTrade.com. He is a filmmaker, critic and market analyst. The information and views set out in this movie review are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Publication/Organization. Neither the Publication/Organization nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.