Thursday, November 28, 2013

Love: Dallas Buyers Club

There are parts of Dallas Buyers Club that read like a fantasy, a fairy tale built around the redemption of a man who, at first, seems like a hopeless case.  When we meet Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), he's snorting coke and banging two girls in a rodeo stall.  He's that type of guy: a hustler so committed to his reckless lifestyle that he can't tell the difference between another bad hangover and a disintegrating immune system. When a particularly bad incident finds him in the hospital, a blood test reveals Ron is near death. A case of HIV he didn't know he had has progressed to full-blown AIDS.  So, with his T-cells are almost bottomed out and his body betraying him, Ron finds himself without a friend in the world. He's a loud-mouthed cowboy, a racist, wasted, aggressively hetero homophobe whose like-minded friends recoil when they learn of his prognosis. It's mid-80s Texas, and Ron's blood is considered tainted, his ghostly presence a threat to a whole way of life. With little but his car and a hard head, skeletal Ron starts desperately searching for a way to buy time; trafficking in AZT, bringing vitamin treatments up from Mexico, and partnering with a drag queen named Rayon (Jared Leto) to make a little cash and help people like himself.  These are the circumstances Dallas Buyers Club is built from. It's the story of a dying man whose stubborn refusal to die finds him making good with a hell of a lot of people. The most miraculous part about it is that it's spun from real life.   
Of course, the actual minute details of Ron Woodroof's life have been filled in and glossed over. There's no way to know for sure how he contracted HIV, for instance, or just what went down behind the scenes of the offices he and Rayon set up in a rundown motel.  It doesn't matter, really. What matters is that for a film based in truth, Dallas Buyers Club feels electrified by a commitment to storytelling over fact-finding.  Though its characters are withering away, the film is remarkably alive.  We follow the man and the mission here, but to get to the latter, we have to pass through the experiences, connections, and motives of the former.  Woodroof is never falsely elevated, and the film makes it clear that in starting the Buyers Club he's interested in saving himself, turning a profit, and raising a middle finger to the FDA.  What's compelling, of course, are the curious ways he adapts, and the people he meets along the way.  
Though the writing and direction are tight and the film strikes a balance between the darkness and light of its subject matter, the acting is what really makes Dallas Buyers Club work.  I've mentioned it with Killer Joe, Mud, and Magic Mike, and I'll say it again: I take back all my past hating and naysaying of Matthew McConaughey.  The man is going through a career renaissance that cannot be denied, and finally embracing all the slightly sleazy, rough around the edges characters he was born to play.  The dude can act.  He can act exceptionally well. To play Woodroof, the actor dropped to a rail thin weight.  He's a walking corpse, to the point that his hair seems capable of throwing off his balance.  His attitude though, pulls focus.  He swaggers and leans, chews and spits, juts his neck out like a snapping turtle, and brings a presence to the film.  You learn to like Ron very quickly though his demeanor is, at first, reprehensible.  McConaughey brings a good-old-boy anarchy to the character, and it's one that gels well with Jared Leto's startlingly good performance as Rayon.

Ron and Rayon become a sort of odd couple. Their friendship is one, at first, of necessity, and they are bound together by their business and their death sentence.  Despite their tremendous differences, they're similar: stubborn, type-A survivalists. As time passes, they become family. It's hard to recall a time when Leto was this good, perhaps because he never has been. After a few years off the grid, though, Leto's Rayon is a career-resurrecting performance.  He disappears into the character, becomes her.  When Leto and McConaughey share the screen, it's hard to know where to look. They've brought their A-game, they look their parts, act them, and push their true life characters from biopic imitations to living, breathing people. In Dallas Buyers Club, everything is right.  Like Ron himself, the film finds its heart without losing its edge.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...