The intense and rowdy Dallas Buyers Club is uncomfortable to watch, not merely for its story about a 1986 Dallas bull rider stricken with AIDS (a particularly good Matthew McConaughey) and his attempts to bring medicine across the Mexican border, but for the line it crosses in the first minute. McConaughey's Woodroof is seen having sex in the bull stalls before a competition, while a fellow rider appears to die in the ring. For that time, such lewd behavior was probably normal, but soon he's using language that no reviewer can share to describe actor Rock Hudson's affliction and Woodroof's feelings about homosexuals. Cue the moment when a local doctor informs him that he too has contracted HIV, due entirely to a wild sex-drugs lifestyle that's left him emaciated and easily bruised. Woodroof decides it's time to seek treatment, which won't happen easily, as he tries to befriend a local doctor (Jennifer Garner) who is testing the potentially-toxic AZT on high-risk patients. Left with no other choice, Woodruff crosses the Mexican border to buy drugs the FDA won't approve, but soon starts hustling his stash to people like the transvestite Rayon (Jared Leto). As his number of clients begins rise, Woodroof realizes that AIDS has become an epidemic with the FDA's complicity keeping him and others from seeking proper treatment, and organizes a Buyers Club to combat them.
Dallas is the kind of film that seeks to be unapologetic, forcing others to recognize its blaring independence in an effort to gain needed credibility. It's dirty, dingy, fouled-mouth, and as sexually and morally available as some people were back in the 80's. The problem is that half of what we see isn't necessary to the story, for it can never seem to shake off its drugs-drinking-sex moniker. Just when you think we've seen Woodroof take a moral turn - or we're gladly at film's end for that matter - we're granted a particularly unnecessary sequence showing off his affection for loose women that hovers near NC-17 Land. This does nothing to further the story, and actually makes all of his efforts seem like he hasn't learned a single lesson. It's almost as if Director Jean-Marc Vallée is looking for shock value, aided by a topic that needed Dallas 25 years ago. With Producer Robbie Brenner's admission that he had in fact been trying to sell it to a studio for the past 25 years, this one arrives too little too late to make the impact that the AIDS movement sorely needed at that time.
This isn't the only issue holding Dallas back: McConaughey's physical transformation is startling - you want to buy the guy a couple of sandwiches in the hopes of prepping him for his next film. But there's a lot of his performance left over from Magic Mike here, impersonating a priest at one point and a wholesale buyer in Asia at another. These bits of comedy remind us of the old McConaughey and demean what is mostly an excellent performance. His chemistry with Leto is spot-on, as the two act like the couple that couldn't be from different sides of the track. Sadly, Vallée misses the boat entirely with Garner, whose miscasting makes her the third wheel we couldn't care less about..
Dallas Buyers Club is not here to take a stand on AIDS, nor does its message center on gay rights. It's merely about an indecent man getting more time to live the way he wants and realizing that he can economically benefit from helping similar people along the way. If that's not a definition of an anti-hero, we don't know what is. But we can't quite recommend it, either for its incredibly uncomfortable rowdy language that soon numbs you to it, or its message that angry and violent men can somehow inspire an entire movement while retaining the core beliefs that brought them to this point. True, Woodroff does mature (somewhat) throughout the film, but when you're already at a zero, this sort of incremental change isn't much. And while Dallas Buyers Club might score February glory for McConaughey and perhaps Leto, their great performances are overshadowed by a lifestyle that Vallée can't help but show us over and over again.
One hopes this kind of anti-hero isn't the new black, as last year's Oscar contenders featured good people trying to do right. This is really Denzel Washington's Flight all over again, with an immoral man trying to cover up his previous mistakes by committing new ones. If that's what you want from your films, then pay early and often for Dallas Buyers Club, which is rated R for everything imaginable and has a runtime of 117 minutes.
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