It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago Matthew McConaughey was a constant source of ridicule for his choice of movie roles that included such disasters as “Failure to Launch” and “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.” If you were to take his filmography for the last 2-3 years, you’d find films like “Bernie,” “Killer Joe,” “Mud,” and “Magic Mike,” and hardly believe it’s the same man on the screen. Now he continues his thespianic reawakening with his latest project, “Dallas Buyers Club,” for which he undergoes an even more striking transformation to tell the true story of a man with a constant death sentence hanging over his head, but who also has a very strong will to survive.
In 1985 Dallas, we meet Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), an electrician and bull-rider whose vices include excessive drinking, smoking, drug use, and gambling. An accident at work lands him in the hospital where it is revealed he has HIV, caught during one of his casual sexual encounters. Being a homophobe, Ron’s initial reaction is fierce anger at the suggestion of him having the disease, not knowing at the time that it can spread in other ways. After a bit of research, he attempts to obtain an experimental drug to treat the HIV, but is unable to get himself into the trials, which causes him to seek illegal means to get his hands on it. However, even after he obtains it and takes it for a while, he finds that he’s not getting any better.
A last ditch effort for more of the drug takes him to Mexico where a “doctor” explains to him that what he had been taking was actually quite toxic, suggesting that natural vitamins, minerals, and proteins are a more promising route for survival. Ron quickly gets the idea that there’s money to be made from this. The problem is that none of these treatments are approved by the FDA, but that doesn’t stop him from packing up a hefty supply and bringing it home to the US where he starts up a kind of clinic for those in desperate need of help.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a somewhat simple tale, but it’s populated with such fascinating characters and superb performances that you can forgive any narrative flaws it may have. Ron himself is something of an enigma. You know that he’s desperate for survival, going to any lengths to get the experimental drug for himself, but as the film progresses, you begin to question whether he’s simply motivated by his desire to make money or if there’s a genuine wish to help those in the same situation that he suddenly found himself in.
However, motive is not the only thing that makes him such an intriguing character. His slow and steady personality change throughout the film is also one of the notable transformations that Ron goes through. At the beginning, he’s a very lowbrow, racist, homophobic man with a number of faults that only end up contributing to his continued decline in health. As the film progresses, he realizes that he can’t keep doing these things to his body, which leads him to take better care of himself by giving up his vices and eating better.
An even bigger change in personality occurs as he gets to know Rayon (Jared Leto), a cross-dressing homosexual that he meets in the hospital, who eventually helps him start up his business operation. At first, Ron is rather repulsed by Rayon, but as their relationship develops, a mutual respect is formed between the two as they crusade to get their treatments to those who need them. Even by the end, when you think you have Ron figured out, he just might continue to surprise you.
McConaughey handles these changes marvelously in his bold and brilliant performance. These are words I never thought I would attribute to him, but for this portrayal they are well-deserved. Leto is also worthy of much praise, looking unrecognizable as Ron’s sassy business partner. It's no wonder that both of them have been receiving numerous accolades, including recent Oscar nominations. Just think how interesting and bizarre it would be to be able to say Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, a strong possibility given his hot-streak, including wins at the Golden Globes, Critics' Choice, and Screen Actors Guild awards.
The main problem that the film has in regards to its narrative structure is that it feels rather stretched out in certain places, particularly in the second half. It gets a little repetitive as Ron continually gets hassled by the FDA, causing him to seek out other sources for the drugs, but as I said earlier, this is easily forgivable thanks to the engaging characters and the fantastic performances. If it hadn’t been for them, the film could well have been bogged down too much to recover.
While “Dallas Buyers Club” may not be remembered for anything else, it will be remembered for McConaughey’s career-defining performance, as well as the outstanding work from Leto. It’s been such an odd feeling these past couple of years to look forward to McConaughey’s next film when before it was almost always an occasion to be looked upon with dread. Whatever he’s done to reinvent himself, hopefully he’ll keep on doing it. If he can suddenly learn to act, imagine the possibilities for those in his former position.
The film is presented in a 2.40:1 1080p High Definition transfer of top-notch quality. The picture is sharp and clear for the duration of the film with no noticeable fuzziness. The 5,1 DTS-HD Master Audio jumps back and forth between being a little soft and being at the right level, but even when it's a little quiet, it's not anything to worry about. For the most part, the audio quality is outstanding as well, leaving the viewer with very little to complain about in terms of being able to see and hear the film optimally.
Deleted Scenes: About five minutes worth of cut scenes that's primarily taken up with one where Rayon becomes sick from the experimental medication. These are fine scenes, but as usual you can clearly see why they could be taken out.
A Look Inside Dallas Buyers Club: This is one of those pointless featurettes that is a very brief look at the film (it runs about four minutes), primarily featuring footage from the movie and really quick snippets of interviews with the cast where you don't learn anything. Easily skipable.
The extras here are very disappointing. It's obvious that there were interviews conducted with the cast, so why not include them in their entirety? If they weren't going to include an actual behind the scenes look at the film, why not at least include a commentary with the director? This feels like a very rushed release, which it kind of is (it was only released in theaters two months ago), so perhaps they didn't leave themselves enough time to get better special features together. Regardless of that, the film makes this worth picking up on its own. Plus, it's presented in outstanding quality. While the extras certainly could have used an overhaul, at least they put enough attention towards what truly matters, making this release easily recommendable.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: The Fifth Estate, Captain Phillips, You're Next, A Single Shot, Insidious: Chapter 2, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Elysium, The Hunt, Touchy Feely, The Rooftop, Drinking Buddies, Inpractical Jokers: Season One, Planes, Paranoia, The To Do List, Blackfish
Now playing in theaters: The Wolf of Wall Street, Her, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Inside Llewyn Davis, American Hustle, Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club
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