Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

2013. 117 min. R - reflects the times
IMDB says...In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.

The 73rd Virgin says...Fine acting and production design in service of a heartfelt and preachy script. Matthew McConaughey as real-life Ron Woodroof and Jared Leto as fictional transvestite Rayon deserve all the praise they’ve gotten, of course. I never lost interest or sympathy for the characters and the recreation of the era is about perfect.

But there is a moral preening quality to the script that gets a little old. It is careful to make really sure you know who the bad guys are, and over-simplifies the incredible complexity of developing treatment for an infection that no one was even sure was a virus 5 years before.

Fictional Doctor Eve Saks (bland Jennifer Garner) pisses and moans about pharmaceutical marketers wearing Rolexs but then happily dispenses their drugs to her patients. Who should wear Rolexs? Only investment bankers, Hollywood stars, mullahs and dictators?

The best scenes follow Woodroof in his pre-diagnosis days as a well-paid but decidedly marginal electrician with an extreme “pussy addiction” as his friend puts it. And McConaughey really shines as the smooth smuggler who crosses the Mexican border 300 times and trolls for HIV patient customers at clubs and city parks.

McConaughey was born to play this, but in truth he’s not far outside of his narrow if charming acting range. Even with the weight loss and awful hair and bad glasses you never forget who you’re watching. I am in that extreme minority who thinks Reign of Fire and Dazed and Confused are his greatest achievements.

I lost track of the ways the pharmaceutical companies and/or the FDA were supposedly overly greedy by rushing products into human testing or overly cautious in not allowing other untested products into immediate human use or overly greedy in pushing the relatively toxic AZT into widespread use or overly cautious in not allowing ddC to be used earlier, and downright wicked in following the kind of cautious protocols that helped keep Thalidomide out of widespread use in the US, while it was busily deforming babies around the world.

In an especially silly scene Woodroof bribes a hospital orderly to steal bottles from the AZT patient trials. Even though these were double-blinded trials with sugar pill placebos, somehow the bottles have AZT printed on them in 72 point type. Did you get that, kids? Director Jean-Marc Vallée is trying to show you something.

You will also perhaps be surprised to learn that the horrific onset of symptoms and speed of death in the early years of the HIV-AIDS epidemic was not just from HIV but from HIV and PROCESSED FOODS!

Steve Zahn appears as Woodruff’s cop buddy with whom he shares orgies. That’s fine. But in a city the size of Dallas, every time Woodroof runs afoul of the law Zahn is there. Even more than Officer Keough popped up in Silver Linings Playbook. This just disrespects the audience.

Michael O’Neill does everything but twirl his moustache as the one-man FDA wrecking crew determined to kill Woodroof. The reality of blank-faced bureaucrats delaying access to treatment because “this is the way we’ve always done it”, would have been more dramatically intense, but would have required more careful scripting and more respect for the audience.

It could be lots of people could have portrayed Rayon, and of course LGBT activists are angry that the role went to Leto (would I have been upset if Rock Hudson portrayed me? Don’t think so). But Leto is still fantastic and is given the best line:
Rayon’s father on meeting his unrecognizable son – “God help me.”
Rayon – “He is helping you Dad, I have AIDs.”

That was chilling and hilarious at the same time. I just don’t see why Hollywood’s “longest stalled script” couldn’t have gotten sharper in all those years in development. And the movie never really credits Woodroof with specific accomplishments, other than a vague notion that some patients are doing better. He’s been dead since 1992. Is there NO summation available?

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