Mobi’s Moscars – Part 2
As advised last week, I am, continuing my mini-review of the Ocscar nominated films for 2014. This week I turn my critical pen to Dallas Buyer Club and Twelve Years a Slave.
Dallas Buyers Club
This is a difficult film to watch, as the subject matter is very grim and it hails back to those scary, depressing years of the mid-eighties when people across the world were dropping like flies with alarming frequency, after contracting HIV-AIDS.
Although there is still no absolute cure for AIDS, significant medical progress has been made since those terrible years and these days many people with access to the latest drugs are able to almost normal lives for many years, and have pretty much normal life-spans.
The film is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a Texan homophobic electrician and rodeo performer, who contracted AIDS in the early 80’s. He was given thirty days to live by a local hospital but succeeds in remaining alive for seven more years by illegally importing and taking unapproved drugs.
Along the way, he starts the Dallas Buyers Club, which is a device by which he is able to provide illegal drugs to fellow sufferers free of charge in return for paying a club membership fee.
Along the way, he modifies his homophobic attitude and he strikes up a close friendship with a transvestite who becomes his business partner.
Rumbling along in the background of this tale is Woodruff’s battle with the authorities, particularly the FDA, who have serious objections to his drug activities and continually battle to shut him down, put him in jail and deprive him and others of drugs that can clearly prolong their lives.
It has taken more than 20 years to bring this story to the screen, which is hardly surprising, given the seemingly unappealing storyline. When it finally went into production, it had a scant budget of only $5.5 million and the entire film was shot in a mere 25 days.
Yet this low-budget film that was put together in less time than it takes most film producers to choose their cast has so far grossed $23million in the USA and will no doubt continue to put countless more ‘bums on seats’ in the coming months. It has garnered 6 Oscar nominations, including Best Film, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.
Dallas Buyers Club is a shining example of one of my favourite hobby horses i.e. that Hollywood doesn’t need to spend obscene amounts of money to make good, successful films – but that’s an argument for another day.
In my opinion, Dallas Buyers Club succeeds because in spite of the deeply depressing subject matter, it tells the story of a man who refuses to meekly accept his predicted demise, and rails against the bureaucracy and authorities who would have him pass away quickly and without a fuss.
By taking things into his own hands, he not only prolongs his own life, but also those of his fellow sufferers. It is a classic David and Goliath story: a dying, badly educated, Texan hick, against the might of the American government.
But none of the above would have made the film stand out from the crowd, if it wasn’t for the quite extraordinary performance in the lead role by Mathew McConaughey.
It really is a ‘tour de force.’
Not only did McConaughey look the part, (he lost so much weight that he must have been in imminent danger of collapsing from malnutrition), but he positively acted his hind teeth off.
In my personal opinion, I did think that the portrayal of Woodroof’s extreme and outrageously homophobic behaviour at the start of the movie was a bit over the top. If we accept the fact that he was a bigoted, ignorant Texan, it just didn’t ring true (to me) that such an intolerant homophobe could dramatically change his ultra-extreme views in such a short space of time – even given the unique circumstances.
To my surprise, after I had seen the movie, I found that my views are indeed valid.
Amongst others, there is an article in The Dallas Morning News, commenting on the accuracy of the film, which states that:
…people who knew him said that he was not homophobic… While Woodroof was known for outlandish behaviour, according to those who knew him both the film and McConaughey made him rougher than he actually was, describing him as “outrageous, but not confrontational” and not as obviously homophobic earlier in his life
The opening scenes, in which Woodroof is mind-bogglingly abusive towards gays and the gay community, are amongst the most uncomfortable to watch in the whole movie. I can kind of see the justification in showing a dramatic contrast between his original homophobia with his later, more moderate behaviour, but I do think it is a shame that this aspect of the story is patently untrue. It seems to have been a cynical ploy to get more bums on seats.
This is my only criticism, as the film romps along at a good pace and holds your interest throughout, so if you think this is the kind of dramatic movie that might tickle your fancy, then you could do a lot worse than Dallas Buyers Club.
It is well-directed, beautifully acted, (not only by McConaughey, but also by the rest of the much-talented cast), and although you suspect the final outcome, it doesn’t detract from a genuine desire to know how it all goes down. You will empathise with the victims of this dread disease and most viewers will feel uplifted by the film’s portrayal of the indomitable human spirit.
Go for it!
Twelve Years a Slave
Another true story provides the background for this tragic, and incredibly thought-provoking film.
As many have already stated, there is a surprising dearth of feature films that deal with this most uncomfortable of subjects – slavery in the USA.
Even more surprising – or maybe predictable, depending on your point of view – is that it has taken an English Director and largely European actors, to bring to the silver screen the tale of Solomon Northrup, a free black man living in upstate New York in the 1840’s, who was kidnapped and sold into southern slavery.
Director Steve McQueen, writer John Ridley, (an American), actors Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and the rest of the stellar cast have, without any doubt, produced an immensely moving and highly watchable film.
Although there is much suffering, violence and cruelty depicted in the film, some say that the violence has been played down and that the reality of American slavery was much, much worse.
The Director and writer acknowledge that this maybe so, but clearly they had to ask themselves what exactly would be achieved by endless violence, brutality and death, except to provide personal gratification to some sections of the audience.
Few films have been made on this subject, and by general consensus, none have been definitive. This being the case, the film makers owed it to themselves – and their audience – to produce something that caught the essence of that troubled period of American history. They needed to show us what it was all about, without overwhelming the audience with an unremitting catalogue of unspeakable violence and depravity.
What they did show us was that there are no ‘good’ white slavers, even though some may have seemed ‘less bad’ than others; that there were plenty of really evil slavers whose behaviour was unspeakably monstrous. Then there were the hapless slaves themselves. The women were raped, the children were split up and sold away from their families and they were all kept in line by brutal intimidation and the fear of summary execution for even the slightest infraction.
All the above – and more – is shown in this film. For some reason, the horrors of slavery seem even more real when seen through the terrified eyes of an educated black man who was once lucky enough to have known a different life.
Twelve Years A Slave should be seen by every living American, just to remind them of how some of their not so distant ancestors behaved and to know about the unspeakable horrors that took place in their own country. They need to realise that this true event only happened a mere 150 years ago, and that slavery in their country still has ramifications within the social structure of present day USA.
Even in my own lifetime, blacks in much of America were often abused, occasionally lynched and always treated as strictly second class citizens.
If I was a black man living in today’s America, how would I feel about my slave ancestors? Would I feel that it was another time and another place and life had moved on since then? Or would I wonder what manner of humanity sought to subjugate my race, and even as recently as fifty years ago, I wasn’t permitted to sleep in the same hotel, or sit on the same bus seat or eat in the same restaurant or attend the same school as my white, fellow-citizens.
Like Dallas Buyers Club, this is not a particularly easy film to watch, but it is one of those movies that not only Americans, but all the movie-going public needs to see, as one way or another, it is all part of our shared history.
Certainly Britain, (from where so many of the southern slavers’ ancestors originated), have little to crow about, having been one of the main participants in the African slave trade for the best part of 300 years.
Don’t get me wrong, the film is entertaining and contains some towering , inspirational performances from the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, and Michael Fassbender. And it does have a happy ending, of sorts….
Yes… go for this one too.
Next week: Philomena and Nebraska