Dallas Buyers Club Blu-ray Review
I always love it when actors go out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves and the audience’s perception of them. Matthew McConaughey has done just that the last few years. He’s gone from frothy romantic comedies and brainless action vehicles to thought provoking independent films like “Mud” and “Bernie”. McConaughey may have turned in his finest performance in the biographical drama DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. This is acting at its finest.
The first thing you notice about McConaughey is how gaunt and thin he is here. Reports say he lost almost 40 pounds for the role. He plays electrician and bull rider Ron Woodruff in Texas in 1985. Ron lives on the edge with his job and his high risk activities like cocaine use and unprotected sex. Ron is undeniably straight and also undeniably homophobic. There’s a key scene early on when he bemoans the fact that Rock Hudson had AIDS and was gay. The venom that he spews is supported by his buddies.
His world comes crashing down when he is diagnosed with AIDS. McConaughey does a masterful job on showing Ron’s shock and then anger at such a diagnosis. Ron thought of himself as a healthy guy. The doctor also informs Ron that he only has 30 days to live. You have to remember back then that there was a lot of misinformation about the disease. Most thought that only gay men got it through sex. Few knew that you could also get it through drug use, blood transfusions and straight sex. Even more people were confused on how you could interact with people with AIDS. Could a simple touch give you the disease or something more than that? Those were scary times where ignorance was the rule of the land.
Ron’s life gets more complicated as he quits his job because people found out about his health and made it abundantly clear that he was not welcome. I was fascinated how doctors were portrayed here. On one side you have Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare) who goes by the book. He certainly wants to find a cure, but doesn’t want to rock the boat so to speak. He prescribes medicine that has been approved by the FDA and is blind to other forms of treatment. He comes across as cold, but I didn’t find him to be a villain. I found him to be calculated and cautious.
On the other side is Dr. Saks (Jennifer Garner). Dr. Sevard is her supervisor and she goes by what he says. She though has a more caring and nurturing side. She sympathizes with her patients and wants the best for them. Her arc in the film shows her to be more flexible with the treatment and willing to take some chances.
At this backdrop is the introduction of AZT. It’s a drug that was supposed to help in the fight against HIV. It also had serious side effects. Testing was being done in Dallas to check on the effectiveness of the drug. There were going to have a drug trial where one group would get a placebo and the other group would get AZT. Ron wanted to get the drug, but he was told that wasn’t possible. So he started to bribe an orderly to get him the drugs. This came crashing down when the hospital cracked down on this theft.
Ron got a tip from the orderly that there was a doctor in Mexico with alternative solutions. Dr. Vass (an almost unrecognizable Griffin Dunne) had his license revoked in the US. He was working in a shabby establishment that Ron gleefully points out. Vass prescribed him ddC and protein called Peptide T. Both of these were unapproved at the time, but they improved the health and well being of Ron.
Ron then decided to start up a club called the Dallas Buyers Club. Members would get the meds that he would transport from Mexico and other parts of the world for free. They would however have to pay a $400 fee a month for this privilege. It was a fancy way of getting around the law. On his travels to the hospital, Ron meets Rayon (Jared Leto) a transgender woman who also has AIDS. At first Ron does not want to communicate with Rayon because of his long established ways. But their relationship goes from acceptance to friendship. Along the way they also become business partners. One of the best scenes for me was when Ron defends Rayon in the supermarket from a bigot. Earlier Ron would have never done that. It shows Ron’s transformation is complete.
The role was nothing new for Leto. His career has always been unpredictable and unorthodox. He could have easily gone for the pretty boy roles, but instead went for more interesting fare in movies like “Fight Club”, “Requiem for a Dream” and “Panic Room” which played down his looks. This was Leto’s first role in a few years as he concentrated on his music career. Leto brings humanity to the Rayon role. It is definitely the showier role of the two leads and Leto does match McConaughey’s intensity and grasp of the material.
The villain portrayed in the movie is definitely FDA agent Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill). Richard spends the duration of the film trying to shut down Ron from distributing these drugs. The FDA finally changes their regulations in that unapproved drugs are now declared illegal. This is not good for business for Ron and he takes the fight to the courts. In many ways Ron was similar to Oskar Schindler. Both men started out wanting to make money off their venture, but then their humanity shone through. They became more concerned with saving lives and you couldn’t put a price tag on that.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is an astonishing film with great performances from McConaughey and Leto. It is a thought provoking piece of work that shines a light on various issues in this country.
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: Some scenes were a bit dark for my tastes. Otherwise the look of the film does adequately capture the look of Texas.
Audio: Like the video, I wish the sound was a bit better. It isn’t a huge complaint, but I did have to use the closed captioning to hear all that was said.
Deleted Scenes (4:55): There are three scenes in all. You get to see more of an interaction between Dr. Saks and Rayon during the drug trial. You also see a disagreement between Dr. Saks and Dr. Sevard.
A Look Inside Dallas Buyers Club (3:56): It’s a brief overview of the story. I would have liked even more background on the real Ron Woodruff.