Jean-Marc Vallée’s films have always placed a greater importance on character than narrative. He has the unique ability to not only get into characters heads, but to take the viewer there with him. In a Vallée film, characters are not just observed, they are experienced. The result is often a loss of narrative clarity, sometimes to the point of no return.
Dallas Buyers Club manages manages to steer clear of this detriment, marrying Vallée’s unique perception with the solidity of the Hollywood narrative. The result is a film with a straight forward plot that allows the actors to shine and the story to be easily digested. Some of Vallée’s energy is lost in the compromise, making the film less vibrant than his previous works, but this is forgivable due to the fantastic leads. What the film itself lacks in vibrancy, is compensated by the sheer force of will behind their performance.
Matthew McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof brims with a raw determination and drive, as the man diagnosed with AIDS and given just 30 days to live works relentlessly to help others find treatment under the table. Meanwhile, Jared Leto brings an amazing combination of fight and venerability as the AIDS afflicted transvestite Rayon, and Jennifer Garner has never been better. As the sole female character, Dr. Eve Saks, Garner balances against McConaughey ‘s rage, producing a softer, but no less aggressive determination.
Unlike many biopics, Dallas Buyers Club is stream-lined, focusing on only a few years during the 1980s at the heart of the AIDS epidemic. This means time is taken to know these characters and they do not have to be reduced to stereotypical archetypes to cram in all the elements of their lives. These people might have done extraordinary things, but they remain mortal. They are not legends, they are bigots and drug addicts, uncertain and naive, desperate to survive in anyway that they can. That is what makes Dallas Buyers Club truly inspirational–the belief that when pushed, we can all survive anything.
This sincerity is lost as the film nears its end. In an effort to wrap up all the loose ends of Woodroof’s life, the last ten minutes resemble a mad dash as the filmmakers attempt to keep the film a reasonable run time. The ending is therefore slightly unsatisfying, but manages to not completely negate the power of the final image of the film, one of enduring perseverance and aggressive optimism.