Dallas Buyers Club – Movie Review
By Anne Brodie Nov 1, 2013, 13:11 GMT
Matthew McConaughey stars in "Dallas Buyers Club" as real-life Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof, whose free-wheeling life was overturned in 1985 when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. These were the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and the U.S. was divided over how to combat the virus. Ron, now shunned and ostracized by many of his old friends, and bereft of government-approved effective medicines, decided ...more
The story of Texas electrician Ron Woodroof played with depth and compassion by Matthew McConaughey, takes place in the earliest days of the HIV / ADS “epidemic”. He was a homophobic straight man whose carefully crafted image as a bull riding cowboy tough guy was challenged when he was diagnosed with HIV.
Woodruff went on to become an AIDS activist and died from the disease in the early nineties but left behind a legacy of truth, caring, justice, activism and love. He was a hero. He struggled with a hair-trigger temper and unenlightened ideas but when he found his niche in life, he was transformed. He was healed, and he wanted to heal others.
The film doesn’t spend a lot of time on Woodruff’s pre-diagnosis days except to establish that he was a carouser, a womanizer, an addict and homophobic filled with deep hatred for gays. He has a troubling cough and one day passes out and wakes up in hospital. He’s told he has HIV and AIDS and has 30 days to live.
The diagnosis galvanizes him giving him purpose and opening his heart. At first he simply wants to prove his doctors wrong, but his curiosity and love of life come through. He studied medical journals and new drugs and treatments (on microfiche!) effectively learning a new language and discipline.
Woodroof created a “Buyers Club” in Dallas. He offered memberships to AIDS sufferers which entitled them to free drugs which he would smuggle in from other countries. The drugs were untested and illegal in the US but in use successfully elsewhere. Through the loophole of selling membership, not drugs, he got away with it for a while. His customers’ health improved along with his own.
The American FDA lagged far behind Japan, Israel, Norway and Canada and other countries in testing and approving drugs for use in the treatment of AIDS, so untold numbers of US patients died unnecessarily. In the 80’s AIDS was known as the “gay disease” and there plenty of judgment and little support. The FDA focused its research on the drug AZT, which is toxic if misused and withheld tests on other drugs that had proven successful elsewhere. AZT had the effect of killing every cell it touched, and that meant more unnecessary deaths caused by the only AIDS drug approved for use.
He is pointed to a clinic in Mexico where an effective, nontoxic treatment is proving successful in calling the spread of HIV /AIDS. Thus begins his smuggling career and the full realization of his philanthropic caring soul. And he’s getting better. When hospital staff, the Food and Drug Administration and the police shut him down he simply finds more drugs elsewhere. He is at war. He values humanity in all its diversity, lives clean and finds a higher purpose at great personal risk. It’s an extraordinary story.
Matthew McConaughey famously lost a lot of weight, and appears alarmingly thin and drawn. He is the face of illness. Jared Leto lost 40 pounds and shows the lesions of AIDS. In the 80’s and 90’s they looked like a lot of people one would see on the street. Today thankfully, there are fewer because society has taken the disease seriously and access to effective treatments is the norm.
The film is bracing, hopeful and well made. McConaughey gives this thoroughly unlikeable man an authentic arc, a tribute to his gift. It’s hard to watch as AIDS patients are again victimized by the health care system and pharma but the reward is great. McConaughey and Leto are really good, and the direction is flawless. Despite opportunities in the story line Vallée refuses to allow any space for sentimentality so the good stuff feels authentic.
35mm drama Written by Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée Opens Nov. 1 Runtime: 117 minutes MPAA: 14A Country: USA Language: English