‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a fresh take on the familiar AIDS story. The film has a knockout script and amazing performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. The true-life narrative about a heterosexual Dallas man diagnosed with HIV in the ’80s is not as down-trodden as it might seem at first glance. This little indie movie deserves attention for more than just McConaughey’s name and the drastic weight loss he underwent for the role.
McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, who starts the story as extremely unlikable. We meet him during a drug binge while in the middle of a three-way with some trashy girls. By day, he’s an electrician for the city of Dallas, and by night, he’s an urban cowboy not above yelling racial or sexist slurs at anyone. McConaughey pulls this off nicely, as if he wants you to hate him. But when a minor accident sends Woodroof to the hospital, his blood test results reveal that he’s positive for HIV and that his T-cell count is dangerously low. True to character, he yells at his doctors (Denis O’Hare and Jennifer Garner) for implying that he’s homosexual and getting the diagnosis wrong. Clearly, he’s in denial.
After some research at the local library, Woodroof comes to terms with his illness, even though the doctors say that he has about 30 days to live. He tries to get on a drug trial with the new experimental medication called AZT. When he’s turned down, he makes a shady deal with one of the hospital’s lower-end nurses to sneak him some of the medication. Upon taking it, his condition worsens. After more research, he finds out that AZT is more harmful than good, and researches natural vitamins and proteins that can help keep the virus at bay.
Woodruff travels the world in search for these drugs. In his own uncharming way, he decides that he can make some money selling them to others with HIV. In an effort to keep authorities away from this business, he opens a “Buyers Club,” which means that he sells a monthly membership to people, and in return they receive a monthly drug dose for their illness. Since Woodroof is known as a homophobe and is disliked in the gay community, he forges a partnership with Rayon (Jared Leto), a transvestite who also has AIDS, but is a key to moving the vitamins around town.
One of director Jean-Marc Vallée’s goals here was to show how the FDA and other government officials were not in the game of making sick people feel better, but rather to line their own greedy pockets with money from a drug that was clearly not working. Another aspect that Vallée focuses on is Woodroof’s transformation from an asshole to a decent guy who ends up helping others. McConaughey achieves this perfectly. When he gets a dose of his own medicine from a former friend who puts him down for being gay, Woodroof’s face displays the horror of what he’s done to others. This role will probably get McConaughey an Oscar nomination.
Garner has less to work with her and her character is a little one-note, but she turns in a solid performance. Leto, on the other hand, fully dives into his character. We feel all the emotions that surround him, even his flaws and his downward spiral.
‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is more than just a depressing story. It offers hope and redemption in some dramatic and even comedic ways throughout. This little indie movie is a must see.