Dallas Buyers Club
Disclaimer: By now, a number of award-shows have already been out and both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have been sweeping them up. Inadvertently, expectations would be high, especially for McConaughey who is riding high on the McConnaissance.
This movie suffers from what I have now christened as The Iron Lady syndrome: a so-so movie that was bolstered by its star(s). In this case, we have a poor-to-mediocre movie with two great, nominee-worthy performances by its actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, but only Leto truly deserves the statue come Oscar night.
Based on a screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, DBC is a documentary-like presentation of one man's life that was schizophrenic in style, tone and identity. Borrowing from the movie, it felt like a Neanderthal seeing a transgender for the first time and not knowing to call the lady a Fella or call the chap a Miss.
The movie cannot decide if it wants to be a dramatic or historical biography of Ron Woodroof. We got scenes that exploit homophobia and scenes of shameless Oscar-baiting despair, fear and lost; but we also have moments that tease of drama and emotions that were brought up then rapidly swept right away. All these and not counting some of Borten's and Wallack's clunky dialogue (Best Original Screenplay?!).
Then we also have Vallée's directing that was filled with clumsy metaphors, amateurish symbolism and foreshadowing, and bad continuity/editing (look at Gravity to see how clumsy imageries can at least be gorgeous depicted and shot). Characters have a tendency to pop up out of nowhere, and within moments forgotten.
You sit through this movie trying to decide what kind of guy they want us to see, and it is all thanks to McConaughey's startling portrayal that we could even sit through all 116 minutes of it.
That brings us to the stars of the show.
The charismatic McConaughey gave his career-best performance to date. No doubt about it. He has managed to give us layers within layers of this complicated person despite the poor characterisation on paper. However, despite his dedication to the craft and shedding all those musculature, his performance lacked the nuance that would have otherwise made it stoodout. There were still moments where he was still the same-old McConaughey of years ago - except a lot thinner. Partially it was also Vallée's fault for not giving him enough screen time to emote his drama. Just as we are about to hit a dramatic climax, we are cut off to the next scene. Also, McConaughey needs to take lessons from Claire Danes when it comes to the ugly cry-face (come on...some chin quivering, dude!). As such, although he is deserving of his nominations and the accolades, but when it comes down to "Best Actor", based on the nominees list, Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave) is still the one.
Jared Leto, on the other hand, was simply amazing. He was the emotional heart of the show. With one particular scene, which again just came out of nowhere, he was utterly heartbreaking in its ethereal despair, loneliness, fear and pain (that scene was reminiscence of Anne Hatheway's award-winning I Dream A Dream in Les Miserables). The rest of the time, Leto was simultaneously funny and sad. The withering looks of sardonic pleasure were spot on, as were the downcast eyes of regret and self-pity. His character's emotional arc was more fleshed out, but his relationships with the other main characters were at best sketchy.
Lastly, a word about Jennifer Garner. No offence to her, but I remembered what I used to think of her back in her Alias days. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it is Sydney Bristow. She still does that. However, the greatest fault here is that her character is absolutely useless and unnecessary from a narrative point of view. And unfortunately, Garner made it more so.
Oh, and Denis O'Hare was a delightful snake.
In the end, you endure the movie for the ground-breaking, star-making turns of its two male actors and perhaps learn a bit more about a slice of history (and America's hypocrisy). But if you are looking for a great movie about the AIDS epidemic or the LGBT community, this is not it. Watch the play The Normal Heart instead.