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Review: Dallas Buyers Club – Sign-up for weighty performances

Posted by on November 9, 2013 – 7:45 am

Dallas Buyers ClubMatthew McConaughey has delivered some “killer” performances over the past couple of years (see Mud and Killer Joe, to name a couple), but who knew he would go so far as to practically kill himself? The already skinny actor risked his health and lost nearly forty pounds to play an HIV-positive entrepreneur in the excellent new film, Dallas Buyers Club, but he gained enormous respect for the dedication to his craft.

Besides the obvious physical hardship, McConaughey must also be given a lot of credit for making the bold decision to play the unsympathetic character of Ron Woodroof. He’s a sick, foul-mouthed, womanizing, drug-addicted, lying and cheating homophobe and it took a lot of guts for the actor to step into those shoes, even without the weight-loss gimmick.

Dallas Buyers Club is directed by Canadian filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallee and is based on a 1992 article in The Dallas Morning News by Bill Minutaglio (you can read it here.) The film was written for the screen by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack.

Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is a rodeo cowboy and an electrician in Dallas, Texas. He cheats his fellow cowboys out of money, has crazy sexual escapades with loose female drug addicts, himself often indulging in the narcotics and alcohol as well. He’s not a very likeable character at all and as the film begins his lifestyle has finally caught up to him.

Dallas Buyers ClubHe is diagnosed with HIV and given thirty-days to live. At first he is incredulous, ignorantly believing that only homosexuals can contract the disease. But as Ron’s symptoms get worse and he begins to research the illness he finally realizes that he has probably come in contact with the virus through his wanton lascivious ways.

It is 1986 and the AZT drug is just in its initial human testing phase. It is the only medication that is thought to be able to stem HIV and possibly prevent full-blown AIDS. Woodroof is told that he can participate in the testing, but that there is a fifty-fifty chance that he will be given a placebo instead of the actual medicine.

Desperate to live, Ron hedges his bets by paying off a hospital worker to steal the real AZT for him, but soon the supply dries up and his is forced to look south of the border for alternative treatments. He learns from a doctor in Mexico that the AZT doses he has taken are actually causing more harm than good and he learns about other less damaging drugs that are unapproved in the United States.

Not only does Ron feel better with the new combination of medicines, he also concocts a way of making money by bringing the drugs into the US and selling them to other HIV/AIDS patients. But as it is illegal to sell the medicines, he instead forms a club where members pay a fee to join then are given the drugs as part of their club benefits. Other similar “clubs” had formed across the country during that time and it was a resourceful way to skirt the law and the Federal Drug Administration.

Dallas Buyers ClubThe FDA does not take kindly to Woodroof’s business venture and tries everything in their power to shut him down, but the man’s initial self-interests eventually turn to sincerely wanting to help others with his condition and he is determined to go down swinging and “die with his boots on.”

In addition to McConaughey, actor/musician Jared Leto (30 Seconds to Mars) also plays what was surely a difficult role in this film as the transgender drug-addict, Rayon, who befriends the often offensive Woodroof and helps him to start the Dallas Buyers Club. Leto also lost about thirty pounds to play this part, and in addition to the sickly looking weight-loss he is also wearing women’s clothing for most of the movie.

Jennifer Garner also appears in the film and plays Eve Saks, a doctor who is sympathetic to both Ron and Rayon and sees the moral injustice in the way that the FDA and the big pharmaceutical companies are handling the HIV/AIDS health crisis.

This movie is gritty and unapologetic, but often funny as well – just like the Woodroof character that the story is about. Dallas Buyers Club is not for the squeamish or faint of heart as it has rough language and adult situations that you won’t want to talk to Mom about, but McConaughey’s character’s physical and mental transformation in this film is fascinating and this is one of the best movies of the year. Grade: 9/10

Photos © 2013 Focus Features