Dallas Buyers Club
Both sides of the drug equation
Undoubtedly, it’s the brilliant acting chops of Matthew McConaughey as redneck Ron Woodroof and Jared Leto as drag queen Rayon that have garnered so much positive attention to this true-to-life saga of the early days (~1985) of HIV/AIDS. Both men (similar to Michael Fassbender in Hunger, cross-reference below) have purposely emaciated their bodies to truly portray the skin-and-bones existence of the full-blown stages caused by the effects of the virus.
The plot pits Woodruff against Big Pharma as the human trials for AZT begin in selected hospitals across the country. Ineligible even for this faint hope of living beyond the 30 days his first doctor claims he has left, the desperate, booze-swigging, coke-snorting womanizer heads to Mexico only to find a “defrocked” U.S. doctor successfully—comparatively—fighting the disease with much less toxic drugs, proper diet and vitamins.
But before anyone can say “making industry out of adversity,” Woodroof fills his car with the “illegal” (in the eyes of the all-powerful FDA) pills and begins selling the alternative medicines to men and women (mostly men in the early stages) who, including himself, have nothing to lose but life itself.
Like the metaphorical bull riding scenes that bookend the production, it’s a heady trip fuelled by excessive thrills and grim realities. Far from being anywhere near eradicated in our “modern” world, the increasing number of HIV/AIDS cases, albeit at a slower pace, in countries rich and power give proof positive that until human nature changes, the infections will continue to rise.
Empathy in short supply
Whether viewed as comedy (where are the laughs?), romance (are any of the four principals really smitten with anyone else but themselves?) or drama (the collage of vignettes offers few surprises or compelling moments save and except from Jill—Anna Kendrick turning in the best performance of the quartet—as her vivid visage reveals far more than Swanberg’s script ever does), this tale of relationships off and on the rocks never truly lights any sort of flame—new or old—on either side of the screen.
With a craft brewery the place of employment for the only woman in the shop (Olivia Wilde as Kate) and one of the jack-of-all-trades crew (Jake Johnson as Luke) fully dedicated to the art of brewing, it’s little wonder that near-continuous beer consumption (along with a generous regimen of shots, of course) allows the participants to work through their various entanglements/disentanglements without benefit of much sober second thought (candidates-in-training for The Lost Weekend 2; can’t come close to the Naj Sul’s insights into the human condition in Daytime Drinking—cross-references below).
The film’s saving grace are the music tracks, deftly underscoring the situations as they play out (notably “Borrowed Time” and “In the Darkness”) or encouraging a full viewing of the credits so as to not miss one delectable note (what else could serve as well but “The End of That”?). JWR
The Passion of the Fight
In the gruesome tradition of Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Peter Berg’s realization of the book by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson is long on violence and short on balance. This is not surprising given that material is Luttrell’s first-person recollection of a mission in Afghanistan that goes very, very wrong.
Mark Wahlberg gives an appropriately gritty performance of Luttrell, while—against all odds—the rest of his co-assassins (their sanctioned mission) perish one by one. Only an incredible rescue by a courageous local leader who has the temerity to stand up to the Taliban saves the Luttrell’s bacon.
Just a nickel short of jingoism, the black-and-white depiction of good guys and bad guys never finds the words “drone” or “innocent civilians” in its vocabulary. Nonetheless, from a purely cinematic point of view, Lone Survivor is a video game of the highest order. JWR