sâmbătă, 27 decembrie 2014

Cowboys and gays

Dallas Buyers Club (USA, 2013), Directed by Jean-Marc Valée

In the age of CGI monsters and graphic novel superhero movies, it is refreshing to see that one can still make an exceptionally good movie with a $5M budget, and be rewarded with a few Oscars for it.

Dallas Buyers club has started at the point that any movie is supposed to start: a good story. The complexity of the main character and the very peculiar string of events makes it very unlikely for such a wonderful story to be completely made up, although I'd sure as hell watch every movie of the writer that could. The fact that is based on real events, like in most cases, neither adds nor retracts anything from the merits of the movie.

To me, the outstanding aspect of this feature, is the unusual ethical complexity of the main character. We are faced with a guy who passes as pretty regular amongst his peers and a complete product of his environment. To most viewers' standards, I guess he's rather unlikeable. And the good thing is, the movie does not try to make him any more likeable. It is a great directorial ability, to tell a story entirely made of facts, leaving all judgements to the audience. And it is interesting to see how, although staying true to himself, the character of Ron Woodroof undergoes a massive transformation.

His homophobia and his exclusively pecuniary motivations are shattered and in the course of his journey we discover his humanity coming out in full bloom from deep beneath multiple layers of social prejudice. And if it was for this aspect only, the movie would still be very good. But the story touches on a much greater number of ethically grey social aspects: the prejudices linking homosexuality with AIDS in the 80s and 90s, the interests of the pharmaceutical industry confronted with the interests of their clients, regulation of food and drugs and the fairness of outcasting or outlawing the unorthodox elements that dare to think outside the box.

It is how far outside the box Ron Woodroof dares to think that drives the story forward, and his ingenuity in always finding regulation loopholes is a big part of what drives the story forward. Funny how the producers chose a Canadian director for a movie that makes the FDA look so bad, thus completely fulfilling the cliché of horrible health care in the US. It is also scary to think that American directors would actually hesitate to take on the topic.

Quite a few memorable scenes in the movie, from the one when Ron forces his homophobic fried to shake his cross-dressing homosexual partner's hand to the one that nearly brought me to tears of the old homosexual couple donating their house to a cause that started as a profit driven enterprise and became the only hope of many hopeless cases. It is the reverse journey of the pharmaceutical industry and it shows the dangers of not including an ethical element in the development of commercial products.

I'm not entirely sure if Matthew McConaughey's performance is exceptionally good, or if it's just the weight loss and the make-up. He's rather hard to recognize, if that's any worth. And his posture and accent place him right in the heart of Texas, just like the character he's embodying, although this might actually be the merit of the casting director. I am sure he deserved his Oscar ahead of Christian Bale's American Hustle, although I'm curious to see what Bale would have made of this part.

I'm not a big fan of Jennifer Garner and this movie doesn't help her cause. She's good, granted, but she benefits from an exceptionally well written part.

Jared Leto is, I think, the revelation of the movie. I thought everything we feel for the character is entirely down to his acting. And by no means I would have expected this from him, the pretty boy with a pop star image playing Alexander the Great's sexual partner.

Griffin Dunne's Dr. Vass is a very interesting part and I would have loved to see it developed a bit more, especially in terms of motivation and awareness of own impact.

So that's my take on a movie I felt a strong urge to write about, most likely because of its ethical implications. Great story, great writing, great directing and quite possibly Matthew McCounaughey's best role so far. And despite his best effort in both, this movie is so much better than Interstellar it defies comparison. Possibly because it doesn't rely on expensive CGI. And it's 2D.

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