Saturday, March 1, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club review

I've been pretty invested in this Oscar season. I've been following it since the Toronto Film Festival and have done my best to make sure I see every single film that is up for Best Picture. As of yesterday, I'd seen six: American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Gravity, Nebraska, Philomena and 12 Years A Slave. Now, I'm adding Dallas Buyers Club to the mix after watching it last night. Much to my disappointment, I never saw The Wolf of Wall Street or Her, but I guess I'll have to deal with it. Dallas Buyers Club was pretty much the last film that I had to watch so that I could say that my Oscar watchlist was complete. And I was actually pretty disappointed. Maybe it's because Dallas Buyers Club has been built up in my mind so much, but I really didn't think that it was that great. It's a fine movie with some good performances, but I have to say that I've seen many films this awards season that were better than this one.

Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a hard-partying, homophobic electrician who recklessly catches HIV from unprotected sex. The doctors tell Woodroof that he has thirty days to live. Eve (Jennifer Garner) is testing out AZT at her clinic and Woodroof gets it illegally from a worker at the hospital. After discovering that the AZT isn't helping him at all, Ron decides to find treatment elsewhere. He learns from a doctor in Mexico that pumping alcohol, meth and cocaine into his system is only going to make it worse, so he stops for the most part and decides to live a healthy life. He teams up with a transgender woman named Rayon (Jared Leto) to set up a buyers club that will help AIDS patients get healthy without AZT.

Maybe it's the fact that the movie is poised to win three Oscars on Sunday and has had a lot of buzz for many months, but I was just not that impressed with this movie. Don't get me wrong, it's a solid flick, but I think that it was marketed wrong and I think that the movie is a little choppy. If you think that there's really going to be any humor or lightheartedness in this movie, you'll be disappointed. Dallas Buyers Club is like a slow march towards death the whole time and that makes for an interesting, but slightly disappointing experience.

The one thing that I will certainly give this movie is that it's unique. This is not your conventional biopic in the slightest sense and it takes a very different approach than it could have. There's really no big sentimental moment in the end and the film comes to a conclusion quite abruptly. All this makes for an interesting experience that can be a positive if you look at it a certain way. But if you're looking for a film that flows well and has uplifting music moments and all the standard biopic stuff, you'll be disappointed. That's kind of what I was looking for and I didn't get it.

The performances are very good, but I didn't really feel that either was super spectacular. Leto is definitely the standout as AIDS patient Rayon. He gives a splendid performance highlighted by a couple moments of genuine emotion. McConaughey is good, but I his performance didn't really grab me. I was always hooked by Leto, but I never truly connected to McConaughey's Woodroof. I honestly feel that he's going to win the Oscar because he lost a lot of weight. Leto, on the other hand, is deserving, although it's probably not my favorite performance of the year.

The direction on this movie is good at times and mediocre at others. My main problem with this movie is the editing. It's a choppily edited film that seems to repeat itself a lot and then it becomes really choppy at other times. The film becomes repetitive after a while and the emotion is marred by a lack of a good musical score and the lack of a strong editor. The film doesn't have much energy. It's pretty drab and depressing, but that tone actually does make the movie more interesting at times.

Even though I didn't expect the tone of the film to be what it was, it was a good decision by director Jean-Marc Vallee. AIDS is a serious topic and to try to make an uplifting film about the crisis would have been really hard. The tone actually makes the movie more emotional at times even better. I know that all of this might sound contradictory, but I really did have mixed feelings on the film.

All in all, Dallas Buyers Club is a good film, even if it is extremely overrated at this point. Leto gives a standout performance and McConaughey is pretty solid as well. The tone is both a positive and a negative and the movie moves along pretty fast. I did enjoy Dallas Buyers Club in the end, even if it's by far my least favorite of the best picture nominees.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B                                                 (7/10)

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