Dallas Buyers Club by Jean-Marc Vallée

Dallas Buyers Club by Jean-Marc Vallée

 

In 1985, Ron Woodroff (Matthew McConaughey), an electrician and avid rodeo enthusiast with homophobic views, contracts the HIV virus and is given 30 days to live. His doctor Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), tells him about the testing of an anti-viral drug named AZT – a drug thought to prolong the life of AIDS patients. Discovering that AZT is actually harmful, he switches to other non-FDA approved drugs ddC and peptide T and partners with Rayon, a transgender woman (Jared Leto), and creates the Dallas Buyers Club, providing drugs to patients for a membership fee.

Making his resurgence this year with a return to dramatic roles, Matthew McConaughey dives into the Ron Woodroff character with an incomparable passion and commitment in years. The monologue McConaughey delivered in the finale of A Time to Kill sent chills down my spine years ago, and since then I have been waiting for years for him to quit doing romantic comedies and now the wait is finally over. Looking dangerously emaciated and painfully frail, McConaughey brings a complex humanity beneath the swindling, trashy, rude exterior in Ron Woodroff. Never in any circumstance would you ever want to hang out with Woodroff, but you feel sympathy for his plight and cheer him on as he rids of his homophobia and starts helping other people. This is McConaughey’s career best.

From the sparse arthouse way he chooses his parts and dividing time with his music career, Jared Leto has gone unnoticed under the radar, most people still only remember him from My So-Called Life. Rayon is the single most compelling onscreen character I have seen this year. Leto tackles the role with such love and human warmth, breathing charm and a sense of humor into Rayon, the role transcends from being a flamboyant woman trapped inside a man’s body but a human being who desires to be truly loved. As Rayon tells her estranged father in a scene, “It’s not a choice.” I would never presume to know the life experience of transgender people, but after seeing Leto’s deeply moving performance I feel much closer. Campaign or awards politics aside, both actors should win the Oscars, period.

Director Jean-Marc Vallée adopts a handheld cinéma vérité style that brings rawness and immediacy, taking its heavy subject matter head-on and naturally lets the characters tell the story. Even with the latter introduction of the FDA subplot, the story never becomes a political debate about whether the law truly meets human needs. Dallas Buyers Club is a fascinating, powerfully moving story and told passionately by its makers. It is one of the year’s best films.

The Lady by Luc Besson

The Lady by Luc Besson movie poster

My first memories of Michelle Yeoh date back to Police Story 3: Supercop. To me, she will always be the Mainland Chinese undercover agent who drove a motorcycle up a ramp and landed onto a speeding train. And now that has completely been changed in my head, or perhaps another new image of Michelle Yeoh has now been spawned in my head.

Mark my words: this is the definitive Michelle Yeoh performance. Don’t get me wrong, she still plays a badass, but a totally different kind of badass. Yeoh physicalizes Aung San Suu Kyi, she has lost the weight and embodies her gentle grace and is believable as a mother. Yes, I bought this onscreen family. That’s something noteworthy.

There is an art to crying on film. It must be done with precision (so the audience stays rooting for the actor), a certain beauty (you are doing it on camera after all) and grace to it (so that it’s watchable). The Lady contains some of the best crying on film I have seen for a while. I was reminded of how David Mamet’s thoughts against Stanislavski’s school of method acting because the emotion drawn from the actor should come from the scene itself, not a side experience from the actor. I written that off as I doubted if that is even possible for an actor to do (and also because David Mamet wears a beret). The film have proven me wrong. I watched Aung San Suu Kyi cry from being away from her family, not Michelle Yeoh cry from a personal experience.

In screenwriting, they teach that it’s important to make your main character likable, so that the viewer can invest and root for their success. That alone can enhance (i.e. Rocky) and diminish (i.e. The Green Hornet) one’s experience of a story. The portrayal of Aung San Suu Kyi (played by Michelle Yeoh, if it’s not obvious to you already) in The Lady is universally likeable and that alone had me on the edge of my seat.  I don’t recall ever rooting for two people to be together (On that level, this makes for a great date movie) more than Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband Michael Aris (played by David Thewlis). Fuck, the stakes are high: a woman has to choose between helping her country or being with her family. There’s a heroine, she’s in love but can’t be with her lover,  she has supporters, there’s a villian, he has henchmen and set out to destroy her cause. The story structure is practically that of a superhero movie, but I digress. Like in Senna, the situation seems so dramatic I couldn’t believe that this all really happened. The film titters between working as a documentary and a dramatic fiction movie and it becomes an immersive experience.

I quite liked that touch with Michael Aris’ smoking habit. It’s how the character deals with his stress. Often smoking is used as a character trait in movies, and they really take that to it’s end in this one.

Lastly, the U2 song tonally doesn’t fit with the aftertaste of the film in the end credits sequence. I know U2 is a major supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi’s freedom, but that particular song tonally doesn’t belong there, period. I would have preferred the score.

Welcome back, Luc Besson! Please continue to direct movies.