Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallee
Written by: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Produced by: Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter
Runtime: 117 minutes
Dallas Buyers Club is about Ron Woodroof, a homophobic electrician-rodeo during the 1980s, who was diagnosed with AIDS after having unprotected sex with a prostitute. Because the cure for the said illness is not yet available to the public, Woodroof teams up with HIV-positive trans woman Rayon, a fellow patient that he met in the hospital. Together, they deliver unapproved drugs from Mexico to the United States that Woodroof himself has proven to improve his health. Though hesitant at first, their doctor, Eve Saks, eventually cooperates with them to be able to help more AIDS-stricken patients.
I remember not immediately trusting this film to get the Best Picture nomination just because there were other films that had more buzz (Saving Mr. Banks and Inside Llewyn Davis, to be exact) and it was as if the buzz for the film is concentrated on the performances of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. True enough, the film heavily relies on the performance of its actors. Comparison with the 2000 Best Picture nominee Erin Brockovich was made and it is definitely understandable. Once in a while, there comes a film that is above average but is lifted by its strong performances. This is true with the case of this film.
While I am not seeing anything completely remarkable about the execution, one must notice the visible control and sincere treatment of the material. Having a topic of sensitive nature, the film was able to smartly shift focus from the nonacceptance and denial of the main character to the very believable change in the character and how it reflects through the orchestration of the film elements, resulting into a film that is chiseled so well, you can clearly see the story in Woodroof’s point of view. The power of the film to replicate his experience, physically and emotionally, and then transfer the perspective to the audience signifies the intelligence and earnestness invested in the over-all vision of the film.
The screenplay sustains the character arcs of the three main characters that are very important in the narrative because the flow of the story is heavily reliant on the characters, especially Woodroof’s interactions with Rayon and Dr. Saks. This is a very much a character-driven story, and there is a smooth flow in how the events are laced together to anchor a whole character transformation of the central character. The screenplay vividly places details to these characters that were ultimately used by the actors to reach the maximum potential of the narrative, it being a real character piece whose life relies on the emotional and psychological journey of the characters.
The film is also technically sound, having a cinematography that prefers visual engagement over picturesque images, film editing that absorbs the viewers into the images, as well as the sparsity of the musical score that helps in creating the atmosphere of rawness in the film. Non-diegetic music only plays in specific scenes, to great effect. Effective sound design is also present to further evoke the deteriorating health condition of Woodroof. The film has also been noted for its effective makeup and hairstyling, and rightfully so. They were able to highlight the realistic physical process of decay Woodroof and Rayon experiences.
As stated earlier, the film heavily relies on the strength of the performances of the actors, and the ensemble does not let the film down.
Jennifer Garner fares well as Dr. Eve Saks, the initially hesitant doctor of Woodroof and Rayon that ultimately becomes a passive supporter of their actions. While the two other actors definitely grabs the attention for the most of the film, Garner has the responsibility to thread together the key points of the narrative without trying to compete with McConaughey and Leto. She silently puts together a cohesive portrayal of a change of heart that is not as evident as Woodroof’s but one that is also significant to propel the orientation of the other characters.
Jared Leto, despite getting a very showy role of Rayon, a transgendered woman, surprises with his vulnerability to portray the looming tragedy of Rayon by utilizing well-timed acting choices without succumbing to self-pity. Here is a performance that has little screentime, but whose presence in the narrative provides the trajectory in the story as well as the impact of the story aside from Woodroof’s own journey. Leto highlights Rayon as a person whose resilience can only do so much because of his ailing health, and the struggle is visible. By painting a very distinct canvas of a person in the story, Leto is able to create an intriguing and devastating human being out of a very short amount of time.
Much has been said about Mathew McConaughey’s performance as Ron Woodroof, and I would not say anything but it is really an exceptional work. His capacity to carry his character’s dimensions without clouding the film with excessive showing off provides for a very strong, controlled, and powerful portrayal of survival and will to live amid challenges. Being able to throw in potent dramatic punches in well placed scenes in the film, McCounaughey gets the vulnerability of Woodroof’s condition and the hostility he uses to mask the inner turmoil in the character. The result is a textured, captivating, and spirited portrait of Ron Woodroof, together with all the likable and unlikable characteristics of the character that provides for a multi-dimensional character.
The performances, especially McCounaughey’s, are unquestionably fantastic, and the film gives the cast the ample amount of opportunities for them to actually deliver the different layers that are present both in the characters they play and in the narrative they belong to. The film itself fares well, with a clean-cut narrative that is able to engage the audience throughout the entire time. This is an intelligently made film that is built around the performances, and it is not a wrong move.
For this, the film gets:
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