“Dallas Buyers Club” Movie Review

     Matthew McConaughey’s jaw dropping appearance in director Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Dallas Buyers Club” immediately tells the audience this film was made to make a bold and important statement.  “Dallas Buyers Club” tells the true story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) and his battle not only with an HIV diagnosis in 1985, but also with the FDA and the lack of approved drugs for the disease at that time.  As a character study, the film maintains a somber tone reminiscent of “The Wrestler” and “Crazy Heart” which both garnered Academy Award nominations for it’s leads, Mickey Rourke and Jeff Bridges, with Bridges winning for his portrayal of the down on his luck country star Bad Blake.  In much the same way, McConaughey carries this film with a clear investment in the role both mentally as well as the aforementioned physical characteristics necessary to play a man dying of AIDS. 

     In no way does the story portray Woodroof as a man who doesn’t deserve the consequences of the situation he finds himself in, instead dedicating a number of early scenes to show his various transgressions that may have led to his eventual demise.  As a part time electrician and part time rodeo cowboy, Woodroof lives within a world of hard living to put it mildly.  He constantly consumes large quantities of hard liquor, snorts line after line of cocaine and methamphetamine, and has careless unprotected sex with each and every groupie who’s willing to accompany him back to his trailer.  It’s certainly not a surprise to the viewer when an accident at his electrician job lands him in  the emergency room where he is told by the doctor he is HIV positive and has approximately 30 days to live.  Also not a surprise is his defiant reply that “Nothing can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days!”

     After compiling his own research, Woodroof pleas with his doctor, Eve (Jennifer Garner), to allow him to participate in a clinical study of a new drug called AZT.  Within the study, half of the participants would receive various doses of the drug while the other half would be given a placebo.  The obvious lack of knowledge, both in the medical community and the general public, towards HIV patients plays an important role in the film’s plotting, especially in the first act.  While doctors and pharmaceutical companies are clearly confused as to how to treat these patients, the public and especially those closest to Woodroof still believe HIV is a result of a homosexual lifestyle.  Woodroof himself is clearly racist and homophobic, but slowly begins to realize his disease has begun to effect a much larger portion of the population than was originally and incorrectly thought.

     After a failed attempt at using AZT illegally, Woodroof finds his way to Mexico where he is given a number of unapproved supplements that begin to improve his health.  This leads to a business venture in which he begins providing the supplements to others with his predicament in the Dallas area.  In a chance encounter at the hospital, he meets the most unlikely of business partners, a transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto).  Leto’s performance is in every way equal to that of McConaughey’s and is responsible for the film’s substantial emotional core, playing a person being ravaged by AIDS, but always willing to help a way similar to how a mother would.  Rayon’s disposition is as calming as Eve’s, who is sweet as can be, as both possess the ability to counter and sometimes shut down Woodroof’s incessant rants.  As an onscreen duo of sorts, McConaughey and Leto supply plenty of light hearted humor in what is otherwise a hopeless scenario.  As awards season nears, I fully expect both of them to be in the conversation not just for nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, but to win outright.  If either of them do, I couldn’t argue.

     Vallee’s direction of Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s script creates a grim on screen vision made all the more realistic and horrifying by the outstanding ensemble cast.  Thanks to the efforts of Magic Johnson as well as many others, we as a society have made great strides in the perception of people stricken with HIV, but as this film clearly illustrates, that wasn’t always the case.  People had no where to turn for help and could get support only from each other, as the FDA seemed to be more interested in age old regulations than saving a growing population from certain death.  Regardless of their past, the characters in “Dallas Buyers Club” show a tremendous human spirit as they navigate their way through a labyrinth of pain and lost hope.  These are people you will root for, whether you agree with them or not.  GRADE: A