35 years after the original Blade Runner changed the landscape of big screen science fiction, Blade Runner 2049 (2017) dared build on the dystopian portrait of the ecologically devastated urban imaged on screen by director Ridley Scott and his team of designers and artists. Just as in the original, this film is as much about the texture of the world on screen as it is the story of the Replicants (artificially manufactured humans created as slave labor) decades after Deckard first strolled the mean streets of L.A.
Ryan Gosling is K, the Blade Runner of this story, a next generation Replicant whose job it is to “retire” the last of the old models, the ones created with a more flexible will that led to rebellion. His new assignment unearths artifacts that leads directly back to the story of Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachel (Sean Young) and the legend of a Replicant child, a messiah myth for the Replicant underclass not unlike the Christian virgin birth: the first non-virgin birth of a race genetically designed in a lab. It’s a story that Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the techno-industrialist who took over the collapsed Tyrell Corporation, will do anything to bury and he sends his own Replicant enforcer, Luv (Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks), to eradicate the evidence.
This is science fiction spectacle and futuristic detective story as art movie tone poem, a conspiracy thriller with flying cars, blaster handguns, and big brawling fights that defies the breathless pace of the action genre.
Matthew McConaughey is so good in Dallas Buyers Club (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD, On Demand) that he shows up the limitations of this based-on-true-events drama. McConaughey lost a lot weight to play Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician and rodeo rider in the late 1980s whose reckless lifestyle leaves him with AIDS, a diagnosis this redneck homophobe denies vehemently before educating himself on the disease and the dangers of the early treatments.
It’s a story of outcasts and mavericks who pursue an alternative approach to fighting AIDS outside of the oversight and restrictions of the FDA and the AMA, or at least that’s how it presents itself. That it succeeds with so many audiences is testament to the way director Jean-Marc Vallée puts us in Ron’s perspective as his body breaks down, and to the performances by McConaughey and Jared Leto. McConaughey plays up his drawling charm without losing the con man and bigot under the denial and self-destruction of Ron, and his turnaround isn’t a matter of evolution so much as survival. Leto is equally good as Rayon, a transsexual in the midst of reassignment regimen who teams up with Ron to set up the “buyers club” to bring medication in from Mexico. They both earned Oscar nominations and Golden Globe wins for their work.
The rest of the cast of characters are just there to prop up the script’s narrative needs. Jennifer Garner’s sympathetic doctor ends up in the generic supportive girlfriend role to the unlikely activist Ron (even though she’s not really his girlfriend) and Denis O’Hare’s establishment doctor is so blindly obedient to the drug companies that he refuses to look at studies on the side effects and toxic properties of AZT. The film takes Ron’s side unilaterally in its portrait of the FDA, the medical profession, and big pharma as a cabal stifling innovation and suppressing contradictory research on the “wonder drug” AZT. There is probably an interesting story on the politics and medical controversy over the drug to be explored, but it’s nowhere to be found in this script, which nonetheless received a nomination for Original Screenplay. It earned six nominations in all, including Best Film.