DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
2013, R, 117 mins.
2013, R, 117 mins.
Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof / Jennifer Garner as Dr. Eve Saks / Jared Leto as Rayon / Dallas Roberts as David Wayne / Steve Zahn as Tucker / Griffin Dunne as Dr. Vass
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée / Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
BUYERS CLUB is the reality based story of Ron Woodroof, a hard-drinking, drug abusing, and toxically homophobic country boy from
Texas that – in the mid 1980’s – contracted AIDS via unprotected sex
and was given just 30 days to live. After
initial denial of actually having the disease gave way to acceptance, Ron
decided to take matters into his own hands in terms of treating his
disease, especially since the FDA approved drugs he was taking made him
sicker. He elected to smuggle
in non-FDA approved treatments and, in the process, secretly helped
hundreds of other AIDS sufferers – gay and straight.
This got him into serious hot water with the FDA, but Ron’s
efforts extended his life for years.
He died in 1992, a far cry later than the one-month life expectancy
he was given.
BUYERS CLUB, directed with flair, energy, and great forward momentum by
Quebec’s Jean-Marc Vallee, has an endlessly compelling set-up and
payoff. As a biographical
drama, it not only recreates and establishes the paranoid climate of
AIDS-afflicted America in the 1980’s (a time when the diseases was
largely and ignorantly assumed to be a gay affliction), but it
also grounds us in the extraordinary personal transformation of Ron
Woodroof himself. This man is
introduced in the film as a ruggedly macho and an unsavorily hedonistic
pig of man that hated gays, but as it progresses and he comes to grips
with his own AIDS affliction he learns respect and tolerance for the
homosexual community and for all others that have the dreaded disease.
The fact that Vallee’s film paints this inspirational portrait
without succumbing to false feel-good schmaltz and sentimentality is to
film opens in 1985, which is a noteworthy time because Hollywood screen
icon Rock Hudson – whom once personified the ideal visage of masculine
movie star glamour – was revealed to be gay and dying of AIDS.
Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a wild and reckless living
cowboy that loves rodeos and works as an electrician.
When he’s not drunk or high on drugs, he’s engaging in nightly
flings with multiple women. He
gets a highly rude awakening when doctors tell him – after testing his
blood during a visit to the hospital for a workplace accident – that he
has AIDS, which leaves Ron both mystified and shocked.
At first, the deeply prideful anti-gay-everything roughneck can’t
possibly believe that he has the disease because he’s straight, but when
a bit of library research proves that hetero men can become afflicted, Ron
goes into crisis mode.
options are few and far between, and Ron’s health soon deteriorates the
more he’s put on AZT, an FDA approved treatment that’s actually doing
him more harm than good. Even
though one of his kindly doctors, Saks (Jennifer Garner) begins to see the
reality of AZT’s effects, she’s nonetheless left powerless to
prescribe any non-FDA approved methods.
This springs the desperate Ron into action with an ingenious
scheme. Realizing that there are drugs that are not approved in the
that are available in Mexico, Ron takes a risky chance and smuggles some
of these alternative treatment methods back stateside, which do manage to
not only work, but they also extend his lifespan.
Alas, he’s not done there. Understanding
the need to expose the FDA’s spotty treatment drugs while helping other
fellow AIDS sufferers, Ron starts up the “Dallas Buyers Club" that
sells $400 memberships to afflicted patients so that they cam have access
to the non-FDA approved drugs that he has in his possession.
Selling the drugs is illegal and would net Ron a prison sentence,
but selling drug access memberships to people…that’s a
sly legal loophole.
whole intrinsically fascinating angle to DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is seeing Ron
transform himself from a man approaching certain death to one that cheats
it (or postpones it) by setting up his very own drug industry that does
manage to help people in the ways that doctors and the FDA can’t.
The movie casts a revealing spotlight on how the FDA and
pharmaceutical companies at the time often conspired together for less
than moral imperatives when it came to the actual treatment of dying
patients. Beyond that,
Ron’s personal journey from trailer trash hooligan to a sympathetic
crusader and AIDS treatment activist is arguably DALLAS BUYERS CLUB’s
most noteworthy story thread. Perhaps
the most unusual relationship that pays off the most in the film is one between Ron and a local transsexual, Rayon
(Jared Leto), whom is also
ravaged by AIDS. They become
not only unlikely business partners, but touchingly close
allies in their respective fight to save themselves from death.
has been made of McConaughey’s
skeletal appearance in the film, and he certainly belongs on a short list
of actors that have lost an unhealthy amount of weight for a role
(remember Christian Bale’s shocking visage in THE
steadfast – and perhaps fanatical – dedication to rapidly transforming
oneself physically for a role can easily be mistaken for being great
performance art. Yet,
McConaughey’s astounding makeover here is both inside and out, as he not
only credibly sheds away his hunky façade to plausibly inhabit the look
of an AIDS victim, but he also has to immerse himself within all of
Ron’s emotional contradictions. He
makes this character wholeheartedly dislikeable and then thoroughly makes
his spiritual redemption rousing without completely softening up his rough
edges. This is yet another
one of those thanklessly great performances by McConaughey that goes to
prove – just as he did with this year’s MUD
and last year’s KILLER JOE – that
his career rejuvenation into a respected actor of daring range and
intrepid skill is no fluke.
tremendous in the film is the almost unrecognizable Leto as Ron’s
confidant and business partner, and he certainly gives so much enveloping
depth and sentiment to a character that, under a lesser actor’s hands,
could have been reduced to a petty and laughable caricature.
Not only does Leto bring a hysterical level of loveably sarcastic charm
to his doomed character, but he also manages to render him with a
heartbreaking pathos. Jennifer
Garner’s role as the doctor that befriends both Ron and his cause is one of the trickier ones in the film (she’s not so much an
obligatory love interest as she is just a caring, but pragmatic, friend),
but she has an understated way of making a stock character feel
like a genuine addition to the scenes she inhabits.
Even though DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB teeters towards narrative predictability at times (like with the fairly preordained confrontations that Ron has with the FDA and subsequent court room proceedings), Vallee’s swiftly assured and confident film thankfully never focuses too much on such contrivances. The film, no doubt, is greatly assisted by two toweringly great Oscar nomination worthy turns by McConaughey and Leto to lead the charge of this involving true-life tale of overcoming enormous odds in the face of debilitating physical aliments. Even though Ron Woodroof remains a wise-talking Dallas-born and bred hustler throughout the film, he nonetheless changes who he is inside to better himself and those around him, and McConaughey’s dazzling and memorable performance evokes this through and through.h.