TIFF 2013: Dallas Buyers Club and Parkland, Both Deep in the Heart of Texas


Matthew McConaughey dropped to 135-pounds for his role in the Dallas Buyers Club.
  • Matthew McConaughey dropped to 135 pounds for his role in the Dallas Buyers Club.

I attended two world premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, both about Dallas. One film chronicled how Dallas became the focus of our nation's grief on Nov. 22, 1963. The other film told a story that most people had probably never heard: The Dallas Buyers Club.

The so-called "club" was started by Ron Woodroof, the reddest redneck in 1980s Dallas. A rodeo cowboy, regular law-breaker and proud homophobe was usually sticking his business in something or someone that was bound to lead to trouble. So, it wasn't a terrible surprise that Woodroof was diagnosed as H.I.V. positive and given 30 days to live.

But Woodroof refused to accept the death sentence and began smuggling alternative treatments in from Mexico. And he began making a rather tidy profit by selling "memberships" at $400 a pop and giving the treatments to other H.I.V. patients. Ultimately, he was considered a bit of an antihero to Dallas' gay community.

Matthew McConaughey swings for the fences with his performance as Woodroof and, boy, does he circle the bases. His dedication to the role led to McConaughey's personal loss of 50 pounds for the role, playing one scene at a scant 135 pounds. In a post-screening press conference, he said it was under the care of a physician.

"The months of weight loss accomplished what I had hoped it would, being part of my commitment to playing Ron," said McConaughey. "I got what I wanted out of it, and more."

It's his best performance to date and will have everybody buzzing.

When most people talk about the 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy, locations like the Dallas Book Depository or the infamous grassy knoll jump to mind. But most people don't think of Parkland. That's the name of the Dallas hospital where JFK was rushed after he was gunned down by an assassin's bullet. It's the same hospital where Lee Harvey Oswald was also rushed after he was shot.

Parkland is also the name of a fine new film about the events that occurred 50 years ago. And it's a pleasant surprise that in all of the film's about the JFK assassination, Parkland is the one without an agenda. Instead, it follows the men and women who were witnesses to the late 20th century's greatest tragedy.

From the hospital's caregivers who tried to save the president (Marcia Gay Harden, Colin Hanks, Zac Effron), to the law enforcement agents riddled with guilt (Ron Livingston, Billy Bob Thornton) and finally to Abraham Zapruder, played magnificently by Paul Giamatti. Zapruder first saw, through his own camera lens, what the world would see thousands of times over in what has become possibly the most famous home movie ever filmed.

Parkland is a timely and respectful film and, on its own terms, should hold up nicely through the years to come. This particular year is a bit more difficult than most for those of us who remember how our nation ached half a century ago.