Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Dallas Buyers Club
February 3rd, 2014
Dallas Buyers Club is widely considered a favorite to win at least one Oscar and it has a shot at becoming the big winner come Oscar night. Needless to say, my expectations for the film are really high. I'm hoping they are not unrealistically high. Is this the case? Or is the movie as good as its critically acclaim?
We are first introduced to Ron Woodroof as he's having sex with two women and doing cocaine while at the rodeo. He gambles with some of his fellow bullriders but when his rider loses, instead of paying out the money, he makes a run for it. He's about to get a beat down when he convinces his cop friend, Tucker, to arrest him and take him away. At first he just asks nicely, then he hits Tucker. He gets punched back in return, but a mouth full of blood is a lot better than what those cowboys were going to do to him. Tucker drives Ron home, but it's clear that Ron is not doing so well. He looks thin. He's been coughing an awful lot. That punch wasn't that hard, but he bled a lot. Then when he tries to leave the cop car, he stumbles. He makes it inside, but passes out shortly after that.
Later at work, Ron, who is an electrician, is called in to shut down a drill at an oil patch after an accident. Ron carelessly tries to shut down the power only to knock himself unconscious. When he wakes up, he's in a hospital and the two doctors, Dr. Sevard and Dr. Saks, have some devastating news. He has tested positive for HIV. Ron takes the news poorly, which is understandable considering what he's being told. However, he seems more concerned about defending his sexuality than being concerned about his health. The diagnosis isn't just bad, it's fatal. Ron's T-count is 9. Anything below 200 is really bad. The doctor only gives him 30 days to live. Ron refuses to believe this.
In fact, Ron goes right back to his usual lifestyle of cocaine and women. He refuses to believe he could possibly have AIDS, but he begins to do some research, just in case. It's not until he realizes you can contract HIV from intravenous drug use, or from unprotected sex with an intravenous drug user, that when the truth sinks in. He learns of a new drug being tested, AZT, and wants to buy some. Dr. Saks has to explain to him that the only way to get AZT is to be part of the clinical trial. He's quite desperate and even after Dr. Saks explains what a double-blind study is, he just wants to buy the drugs, any drugs that show promise. Instead of trying to go through the normal means, he instead bribes one of the janitors at the hospital to get him AZT, which he mixes with cocaine.
Ron tries to get back to a normal life, but word of his AIDS diagnosis has gotten out to his friends. His health has also gotten worse, but it is hard to tell if this is a side effect of the AZT, or if his AIDS is becoming more severe, or if it is because he's drinking too much and doing too much cocaine. When his source is cut off, because they are locking up the drugs, his source tells Ron about a doctor in Mexico where he can go for more drugs. Instead, Ron tries to pick a fight with the man, but ends up passed out on a parking lot. When he wakes up, he's back in the hospital. The doctors try to get him to tell who supplied him with the drugs, but he refuses. When they leave, we meet Rayon, a transgender woman. Ron, being homophobic, immediately hates Rayon, until Rayon asks if he wants to play poker. He still doesn't like Rayon, especially after she wins all of his money and refuses to split her AZT. (She's already splitting it with a friend, so she can't split it three ways.)
After this, and getting evicted from his trailer, Ron is left with no real choices, but to head to Mexico and talk to this Dr. Vass. Dr. Vass doesn't believe AZT works. (On a side note, it does work and it is still used to this day. The original tests were at too high a dosage, hence the bad side effects.) He instead puts Ron on a regiment of vitamins, as well as ddC (No longer used because of side effects) and Peptide T (No longer used after clinical trials showed no significant improvement over the placebo). Ron does get better and he realizes he could make a lot of money buying these drugs. There's one problem. His clients are mostly in the LGBT community, while Ron is really homophobic. This is where Rayon comes back into the picture. She agrees to help Ron find costumers, in exchange for a cut of the money. Ron certainly wants the money, but will he be able to handle being a business partner with someone within the LGBT community?
I'm of two minds when it comes to this movie. If you are interested in the subject matter and you want to see a historically accurate account of people fighting to survive in the face of the AIDS epidemic, watch How to Survive a Plague, which is one of the best documentaries I've seen. If you want to see a movie that pretends to be based on a true story but is mostly fiction, but it buoyed by two amazing performances, then watch Captain Phillips. ... Or Saving Mr. Banks. It's a bad year for Oscar-nominated films based on real life events.
Snark aside, while Dallas Buyers Club does have some issues with historical accuracy, there are reasons to recommend it. Firstly, it has two of the best performances you will see this year. Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are favorites to win come Oscar night, and with good reason. Matthew McConaughey plays a character who is, for much of the film, nearly 100% unlikable. He's a drunk, he's a cheat, he's homophobic, he's racist, he only sells the AIDS drugs to make money. Matthew McConaughey's performance is strong enough that you still are engaged and wait for Ron's attitude to improve. Jared Leto's character, Rayon, is much, much more sympathetic right from the start and gave the film a much needed injection of compassion when it was lacking from Ron. The overall plot is rather predictable at times, but that's a minor complaint compared to the quality of the acting.
The only extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray are five minutes of outtakes and a four-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. That is it. That's beyond disappointing.
On the other hand, the technical presentation is top notch, given the type of film and its production budget. The film only cost $5 million to make, so you can't expect the film to shine like a summer blockbuster would. The level of detail is strong and the colors are good, but some of the darker scenes didn't have the same clarity. The audio is good with clear dialogue, but there's not a lot of activity in the surround sound speakers.
The Blu-ray costs $24, which is $4 or 20% more than the DVD. You can't complain about that price.
Dallas Buyers Club is absolutely worth owning, but I'm worried that because the DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack are nearly devoid of extras, there is a special edition that is in the works. If the film wins three or more Oscars, they might release a special edition sooner rather than later. I still recommend picking it up, but keep that in mind.
- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review, Dallas Buyers Club