Dallas Buyers Club Movie Review
If you want to win an Academy Award, a good first step is to lose 40 or 50 pounds. The second step: play a redeemable homophobic hick who finds a second calling when he is diagnosed with AIDS. Another route: play a dying, cross-dressing drug addict. You'll see both strategies on display in Dallas Buyers Club, a good movie elevated by terrific performances.
Matthew McConaughey stars as the skeletal Ron Woodroof, a real person who, initially diagnosed with only 30 days to live, resorted to unapproved drugs to survive. He then decides to start buying and selling the same drugs for other dying patients.
Jared Leto, in his first movie role in years, plays his business partner and the aforementioned dying, cross-dressing drug addict.
Dallas Buyers Club is an emotional drama that is compelling until it isn't quite as compelling, highlighted by the performances by McConaughey and Leto. McConaughey has turned in some stellar work over his career, but never has he been so far outside his comfort zone; Woodroof is unlike any character he's played before as he goes "full AIDS patient" in what would be a lock for an Oscar in most years, but no sure thing in 2013 (see 12 Years a Slave).
Like McConaughey, Leto is a near-sure lock for a nomination. He's nearly unrecognizable, and not just because he's dressed like a woman for most of the movie. His final scenes are among the most tear-jerking of any this entire year.
Jennifer Garner is also good in a smaller role, though her character isn't given much to do and really seems inserted into the story to provide a female counterbalance to Woodroof's brash personality. She, like Leto's, is apparently not based on a real person.
The movie itself, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, is well made. The screenplay by relatively inexperienced writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack is top notch and allows the actors to explore their characters while keeping the audience entertained with the right balance of drama and a sprinkling of comedy. The movie looks great and captures the confusing and frightening early-AIDS period of the 1980's.
Still, Dallas Buyers Club loses its edge - just a little - in the third act. The filmmakers do such a terrific job of developing their characters, setting and situation early on that when it's time to get down to business - resulting in several time jumps as it accelerates to its inevitable conclusion - I wasn't as blown away as I expected to be given the plot about dying AIDS patients. The movie is emotional, but something is missing.
Dallas Buyers Club is a very good movie, but it's no masterpiece. What makes it worth seeing is the powerful performances by McConaughey and Leto, perhaps the best of both actors' accomplished careers.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.