Dallas Buyers Club shows empathy in the making

Rotation

Dallas Buyers Club (DBC) was one of the most highly anticipated films this year and snagged three Oscars, which explains why so many airlines – from British Airways to Singapore Airlines to US Airways – are showing the film as inflight entertainment.

Matthew McConaughey portrays real-life AIDS victim, Ron Woodroof in the film that continues to gain notoriety and criticism. Though nearly impossible, if viewing Dallas Buyers Club (DBC) from an unbiased stance it is a perfectly layered film: a solid script, the vision of director, Jean-Marc Vallée, and beautiful performances by McConaughey and Jared Leto.

The film wastes no time before throwing good timin’ man, Ron Woodroof’s heavy lifestyle in your face. Opening on a rodeo stall threesome juxtaposed with a rearing bull in the ring, the metaphor is all too clear when a rider is thrown and lays unconscious in front of the cheering crowd.

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It’s 1985; Reagan is in office, men are “men”, women are “women”, and HIV/AIDS is on the rise. After an accident at work, Woodroof, a man who thrives on booze, coke, and sex, is rushed to the ER where he is informed that he is HIV positive with little time left to live. Refusing the diagnosis and promising that, “There ain’t nothing that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days,” our protagonist sets out on his Everyman journey, battling the FDA, the pharmaceutical industry, and his own bigotry.

Throughout the 117 minutes, each element of DBC stands on its own while complimenting one another. The script, written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack and nominated for Best Original Screenplay, was inspired by a 1992 story in The Dallas Morning News by journalist, Bill Minutaglio. Borten, who then conducted his own three-day interview with Woodroof, knew he’d hit a gold mine character; a homophobic, Texan rodeo hustler who’d contracted AIDS and would go on to crusade for others to receive their rightful care.

The script thrives on the unsentimental. Rarely does Vallée push your “Cry Now” buttons by apologizing for Woodroof’s transgressions. Instead the story is delivered through a man whose circumstance, arrogance, and disregard are unfathomable to the majority of audiences, yet he transforms before our eyes in that long lost, point-by-point equation. That is what I was watching; a good, old-fashioned character arc.

One does wonder if McConaughey, with his natural swagger and southern drawl, had to do much acting at all, but it is the grocery store scene that reassures us of his talents. With few cuts, the scene is uncomfortably real under the store’s fluorescent lights as Ron bumps into T.J., a friend who now refers to Ron as a “faggot.” After a snide remark in reference to Rayon, Ron’s transgender business partner played by Leto, Woodroof headlocks T.J., forcing him to oblige Rayon’s handshake. This is the key scene when Vallée allows the three actors to reveal an improving Woodroof, a man the audience no longer scoffs at, but feels for.

Dallas Buyers Club, though it has received criticism of its portrayal of the LGBT community and its heterosexual POV, is a strong film backed by an even stronger cast. An unlikely, unlikeable protagonist carries this film and it is his newfound empathy that keeps us intrigued.

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