Quebec born Director of seven cinematic features between 1995-2013, this blog features his most recent Oscar winning true life spectacular "Dallas Buyers Club". Jean-Marc has recently finished another film based on real life experiences "Wild" which is released in the UK on 15th January 2015.
Disclaimer: As with all of my film blogs I have written this from the perspective of a genuine fan with the intention of providing very little or no plot spoilers as I sincerely aim to give just 5-10% of the film as a flavour. Plot spoilers, fact tracks and trivia can be found elsewhere on the internet! Here you will read my genuine and honest appraisal of a wonderful true life film and three astonishing performances. I sincerely hope you enjoy my individual take on the following film.
Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
"I like your style, Doc!"
Dallas Buyers Club is yet another addition to my personal cannon of great films that the instant I make my way from the darkness of my local Picture House I assume the persona of Clarence Worley in the Quentin Tarantino penned and Tony Scott helmed classic "True Romance". If a film is this good, this affecting and thought provoking that my synapses are firing in every possible direction I simply want to extend the feelings the film has generated, to relive it, discuss and dissect it endlessly and preferably over a piece of pie with a beautiful lady in an all night Diner. Numerous subsequent re-viewings of Jean-Marc Vallee's seventh cinematic feature have always left me with these same feelings and what better recommendation could you want? Dallas Buyers Club is an incredible film of hope, despair, love, redemption and of the human spirit refusing to acquiesce to it's fate. It's a heartbreaking and often difficult to watch tale of dreaming the impossible dream, of searching for solutions against all the available odds, of embracing all colours and creeds of life whilst also shining a critical and needed light on the corrupt and exploitative pharmaceutical industry turning a huge dollar whilst turning a blind eye to any unprofitable or vital products they do not control or dispense. But we're getting ahead of ourselves! This film is all of this and much, much more but at it's core is a heart rending and thunderous true life tale supported by numerous small and cameo roles complimenting three star performances that garnered three thoroughly deserved Oscar wins, three further Oscar nominations and worldwide acclaim for a wonderful film.
Set in 1985 and at the height of the AIDS epidemic that continues to blight the world we live in to the present day, "Ron Woodruff" (Matthew McConaughey) is a man's man, a hard drinking, hard smoking lover of life and all the excesses that come his way. A fuller dissection of his character follows but Ron lives within the mid 1980's of heightened homophobia due to the onset of the epidemic, closet and otherwise outward racism and of intolerance and attacks on homosexuals and crucially, a public wide ignorance of how the disease can spread amongst the populace. Employed and enjoying a busy social life with friends and family alike Ron enjoys a busy life and is popular within his community until illness strikes and his world is completely turned upside down as he is diagnosed with AIDS and given just 30 days to live. Ostracised from his secure life of work, family and friends, Ron simply refuses to believe his 30 day fate is set and begins to work tirelessly, both inside and outside of the social system to achieve his dreams and prolong a life he values.
Ron (Matthew McConaughey) Hard living Texan, gregarious with an outward charming smile, Ron is also a popular and valued electrician and a rodeo bull rider in his spare time who is a lover of life and fully embraces every experience he can. A man's man, simply summed up early on as he exclaims in a hospital visit "The Goddamn rodeo's what you see!" however the outward signs of his fragile failing health is quickly, and sadly, established as he coughs, splutters and collapses through his early days with the virus. Railing against the medical system is Ron's only avenue left in an attempt to prolong his life and via assumed names and persona's he establishes the Dallas Buyers Club whereby patients, and indeed customers, can purchase a "membership" to the club where they are provided with alternative, health enhancing, yet unapproved medicines. This becomes Ron's reason to live, to survive and flourish and with his unlikely alliance with his partner in crime, he begins to live again despite the odds and his aggressive stance against the local, state and national authorities has only just begun. McConaughey's performance as the ailing yet determined to be born again Woodruff is a tour de force and fully deserving of his Best Actor in a Leading Role at the 2014 Oscars. Derided for many years as a straight ahead romantic comedy actor of little substance, this performance followed hot on the rodeo heels of a sublime and bizarre cameo in Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street", however it's his two previous roles in "Magic Mike" but especially "Killer Joe" that lead to this supreme, Oscar winning portrayal. In the William Friedkin directed Killer Joe, McConaughey lays the groundwork for his performance here, albeit two completely different films, he owns and dominates both, front and centre with his tone, intonation and gravitas for the roles propelling both films and dragging you into his world(s), daring you to watch, endure and ultimately admire. Finally, McConaughey's star is very much on the rise and headline roles follow in late 2014 in Christoper Nolan's eagerly anticipated "Interstellar" before he stars in the Gus Van Sant directed "The Sea of Trees".
Rayon (Jared Leto) They say opposites attract but Ron's awkward and horrid homophobia prevents these eventual partners in crime from ever being really close but it's Rayon's bubbly and over the top persona that shines through and against the odds with the rough "Texas hick, white trash". Rayon is a gay transvestite also suffering from the AIDS virus and the unlikely alliance leads to the creation of the buyers club and so much more. There may "no helping me" but Rayon's spirit shines through as she slowly breaks Ron's repugnant views and both their shared scenes and that of her touching scenes with Eve bring this wonderful film into sharp and poignant focus. Despite her debilitating illness Rayon has a beaming and welcoming smile that hides her inner turmoil and obvious fear of dying and Leto's effeminate and heart breakingly caring and joyful performance is a pleasure to behold. Not bad for a lead singer of the rock band 30 Seconds to Mars! However Leto has also been an actor for many years prior to this, his career defining and Oscar winning role. Small roles proliferated his early career before a worthy cameo as Angel Face in David Fincher's classic "Fight Club" was followed shortly after with a stunning performance in Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream" before re-teaming with Fincher on "Panic Room". Leto's performance here though is, to repeat my earlier cliche, career defining, and this musician turned actor's next move in films is eagerly awaited.
Eve (Jennifer Garner) In a film of career defining roles, this simply has to define the forward career of Garner as her nuanced and balanced performance magnificently juggles her straight laced and straight forward persona with one of compassion, hope and approachability. Her portrayal is so stark as, purposely so, this is the polar opposite to her colleagues and superiors who deal in the reality of the situation and the business of the hospital they find themselves in whereas Eve displays a much needed human side and this is plainly evident in her touching scenes with Rayon and particularly Ron. These joint scenes define the film but none more so than with Ron who despite his ailing health is determined to show his real self to a Doctor whom he admires and, under different circumstances, would covert as a girlfriend. Despite her professional status, Eve brings light and joy into Rayon and Ron's respective lives, with Ron admitting at their long tried for steak dinner "Nice restaurant, beautiful woman. I swear I feel human again". It's a beautifully touching scene, well helmed with two simple camera angles from the Director and two actors beaming at the joy of the scene ahead of them.
In support of these wonderful central roles are numerous smaller and cameo roles but notable stand outs include the excellent as always Steve Zahn as "Tucker", Kevin Rankin as Ron's brother "TJ", Denis O'Hare as the straight ahead "Dr Sevard", Griffin Dunn as "Dr Vass" and Michael O'Neill as FDA enforcer "Richard Barkley".
Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack following interviews with Ron Woodruff himself, there is so much to admire in this inspiring and uplifting film but leaving aside any further obvious plot spoilers what I most admire are the little touches and oblique angles often employed by Director Jean-Marc Vallee and the often abrupt editing by the Director himself (under his pseudonym John Mac Murphy) alongside Martin Pensa. Along with the fades to black and simple title slides announcing the number of days Ron has so far survived, these truly propel the narrative forward at breakneck speed and the film really benefits from this in it's lean running time of 117 minutes. The oblique angles are often employed to break up an otherwise routine scene and noticeably enhance many of the joint scenes throughout but is especially prevalent and affecting as Ron and Rayon haggle over their "cut" in the business. The film's juxtapositions highlighting the differences in Doctors attitudes, the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) versus the more natural and life enhancing remedies is stark and never more so than when the aforementioned FDA accuse a drug dealer of being, well, a drug dealer. He who casts the first stone is never more apt. The film's excellent soundtrack is also full of juxtapositions as well as fine choices that perfectly encapsulate the mood of the film, juxtaposing Texan Country and Western ballads with numerous songs from Marc Bolan and T Rex. Rayon would heartily approve of these!
Three wonderful performances in a film that may break your heart but you may also be cheering through the tears come the film's closing credits and the wonderful "Life is Strange" by T Rex. A stellar film in every sense.