In the front lines of transforming your physical appearance for the sake of the art, critics and audiences respond with gasps and eye-bulging at the shocking “de-glamorization” of our beloved Hollywood figures . Often times, it’s used as a gimmick, lacking skill and talent to match the transformation. Christian Bale received lots of press leading up to and following his performance in Brad Anderson’s “The Machinst” nearly a decade ago. Nothing about him or the film reached an epic proportion of legendary filmmaking or acting. Focus Features’ upcoming film, “Dallas Buyers Club” executes solid imagery and profound performances that stands as one of the year’s most ambitious efforts thus far. You can’t knock anyone for trying to go for it.
Looking at what Matthew McConaughey achieves with the direction of Jean-Marc Vallée finally gives Hollywood and the rest of the world the realization of what an actor can do if they push themselves for the sake of the craft. It’s not just a makeup trick, he embodies the soul of a broken man, reaching for a new-found purpose and demonstrating the human will to survive. McConaughey has hinted at this greatness for years now. He was in the realm of conversation last year as the loveable club owner in “Magic Mike” and impressed the lights out of many earlier this year with “Mud” from Jeff Nichols. Playing Ron Woodroof, a homophobic electrician that contracts HIV in the 1980’s, the 43-year-old actor has tapped into an extraordinary and found humanity within a character that is often times unlikeable but continue to root for.
Vallée’s direction of the story is impressive. He takes artistic liberties we haven’t seen him attempt before and does a comparable job at bringing the unfocused and at times, jumbled narrative to the screen. Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack pen the script from an honest place. The “Inspired by true events” phrase that’s plastered on the film’s poster should have allowed a more cohesive and finely tuned story to be constructed. Their decisions on where to focus Woodroof’s life during his first year living with HIV didn’t give the film a thematic foundation to connect with. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be watching a socially political film that highlights the intolerance of homosexuals in the 80’s or a politically-motivated drama that highlights the injustices that our own government takes on its people. You can make the argument that it’s a blend of the two, but the way the events unfold and are represented don’t necessarily ring authentic. If anything, they paint a poorly constructed portrait of homosexuals and victims of HIV and AIDS during a very difficult time in our nation where anyone was looking for an outlet of longevity. We know lots about the traumas and prejudices of our victims during the AIDS epidemic and the battles they fought just to simply live. There’s no other message or values that the film presents that I haven’t already heard in “And the Band Played On” and “How to Survive a Plague.”
As aforementioned, the performances in the film rise above any flaws that the script may slip into. McConaughey is the best I’ve ever seen him. Simply a delight from head to toe, beginning to end. What I haven’t started to uncover is the revelation that is Jared Leto as the lovable and AIDS-stricken Rayon. Leto, who has been away from the game for some time as he focused on his music with his band “30 Seconds to Mars” showcases one of the year’s finest turns and the best he’s ever delivered. Every time the talented Leto is on-screen, he steals focus from everyone around him. He manages to illuminate the pain and horror of the human spirit as it deals the inevitable notion that fairly soon, you will die. You won’t see a more devastating turn or a greater example of masking the real emotions of the soul this year. A Supporting Actor contender has emerged in Jared Leto.
The beautiful and talented Jennifer Garner lays all she can into her role of Dr. Eve Saks, a doctor overseeing more than illnesses during the epidemic. While I will always remember her fondly in Jason Reitman’s “Juno” in 2007, she simply doesn’t have enough to work with to rally anything more than mere sympathy. Two co-stars, who are always great to see as the expand the filmography, is Denis O’Hare and Steve Zahn, both impeccable in their minimal roles.
As a whole, “Dallas Buyers Club” is competent filmmaking executed by two outstanding performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Director of Photography Yves Bélanger is the best of the technical merits of the film. Aesthetically capturing tender moments from the side of a bed and the window of a car. Something that should be considered when looking at the film for awards prospects. At the end of the day, it’s solid filmmaking. You can admire the attempt, but it missed some opportunities. I think the Oscar race has just added two solid contenders on its already growing list who are completely worthy of holding statues on the night.