Film Review: Dallas Buyers Club

I can’t really explain why exactly but I’ve been waiting to see Dallas Buyers Club for quite a while. It’s a film that dropped onto my radar and just intrigued me. It asked for my attention and I was happy to give it. And as we approach the awards season, it’s even being talked about in terms of standing a chance of picking up some silverware along the way. It’s just a film that seems to tick the right boxes.

But…

Having just returned home from seeing it, right now I really don’t know how I feel about Dallas Buyers Club. It is just a completely different film as a whole than the one shown in the trailer. Not as a result of the substance that makes up the film being different. The trailer depicts the film. But as a result of the pacing. The film is a lot, and sadly I mean a lot, slower than made out by the trailer. It’s not a cat and mouse roller coaster type ride as given off in the two minute preview but rather a two hour monotonous trudge. And it’s such a shame.

It’s fair to say that this is never going to be a film to suit everybody, whatever people say or claim, however society’s view on HIV, AIDS and homosexuality changes, sadly, the disease is still connected to a culture that people for some reason find taboo. I think people will shy away from this film before they even get to the cinema, purely on preconceived ideas. But society’s quiet and wrong taboo is a debate for another day.

The most obvious thing with this film is Matthew McConaughey and the dramatic, almost unrecognisable change he has put himself through to play the part. It’s no wonder he’s nominated for an academy award, whether he deserves it or not, purely for the punishment he was prepared to push his body through to accurately convey the effects of this illness on its host. Sadly though, while there can be no doubt that over the last few years he has stunningly reinvented himself with some cracking standout performances and shrugged off the reputation for being wooden and one dimensional, this isn’t his best. It’s good but it’s not his best. It’s the transformation rather than the performance that leaves the greater lasting impression.

Jared Leto is also drawing massive praise from the film and the award’s panels, however, for me, this is once again coming mainly off the back of his physical transformation into Rayon than any real depth to his performance of the character. Once again, he’s good and he deserves the praise, but it’s the physical looks that stick in your mind.

And all this talk of physical looks is the overriding problem with Dallas Buyers Club. As a film, it suffers badly from style over substance. It’s striking in how it looks rather than how it plays. I have come away from it, with some vivid images in my head, but also with a sense of being left empty inside. It is almost as if it never quite knew what it wanted to be. Did it want to lean towards being a documentary on Ron Woodroof, or try to show the fight between the FDA and “Buyers Clubs” over the use of medicinal drugs, or take us on a journey through the homophobic stereotyping that surrounded the whole HIV/AIDS taboo in the 1980s? It couldn’t find the answer, it couldn’t find a balance and as a result, it fails really, to achieve any of them.

You just feel that for a film set in Dallas, heart of “The Deep South” to a backdrop of the macho world of rodeo cowboys that it didn’t push the boundaries regarding how society back then viewed the disease, those that had it and ultimately, the beginnings towards an attempt to break down the taboos and attitudes that sadly still exist today regarding people with the disease.

And yet, it also fails to explain in any really satisfactory way the fight between Woodroof, his Buyers Club and the actions of the FDA driven by the pharmaceutical companies to shut him/them down. It creates too many questions about how after run in and ruin with and by the FDA he is capable of just instantly bouncing back. Too often you are left feeling confused and perplexed by his actions. That slowly you start to doubt the plausibility, however truthful the story is, of what happened.

Which means, that you are left hoping that the film will really take you on journey through Woodroof’s life. To show you how through an uncontrolled and extroverted lifestyle his bigot homophobic views on the world came to be completely redefined ultimately leading to a rebirth of humility and realisation of the good in everybody. That we are all just trying to live our lives, as we want to live them. But no, the film just plods slowly past any opportunity to really delve you deeper into his life than a passing glimpse.

Every time you think they might be about to scratch more than just the surface of a subject, it cuts to black and moves on a day, and it’s such a shame because you cannot help but feel that there is a beautiful, uplifting tale intertwined into a world of greed, nativity and preconceived perceptions desperately wanting to get out and never being allowed.

I honestly think that this film will be a close by no cigar as the awards get handed out and that as time goes by, it’ll only be remembered and briefly talked about from the point of view of physical transformations its cast went through and not the subject and plot it tried to portray. And that’s such a shame because, when I first saw the trailer, it promised so much more.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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