At the heart of Dallas Buyers Club is Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a rough-neck Texan who works as an electrician, and in his spare time binges on booze and coke, beds hookers, and bull rides at the rodeo. After falling ill, he takes himself to the emergency room and is diagnosed as HIV+ by Dr. Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner). Woodroof has never even heard of HIV, but he’s startled when he’s told he only has 30 days to live.
Like any uninformed partier, he ignores his death sentence and drowns his sorrows in substances. When his one month is almost up, he decides to go to the local library and research his illness. He finds out that there is a clinical trial for a new drug called AZT, which may increase his survival rate. Due to Big Pharma red tape he’s unable to get into the study, but instead pays a hospital orderly to give him leftover pills. But when the pills run out he finds himself across the border in Mexico, on a tip from the orderly. He visits a local clinic doctor who informs him that AZT will kill him faster than his HIV. The Mexican doctor puts him on a protocol of vitamins and amino acids. Woodroof sees an opportunity to not just help himself but also make some extra cash. He comes back into the States armed with a trunk full of non-FDA approved pills to hawk on the Dallas streets.
His homophobic tendencies make it difficult for him to get any customers and he eventually partners with Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual HIV+ patient, whom he met at the Dallas hospital. After a few more trips to the library, he learns about a club in New York State that distributes vitamins and other medicine to HIV+ and AIDS patients. Woodroof and Rayon set up shop in a pay by the hour motel and create their very own Dallas Buyers Club. They are legally allowed to give members medicine for free, if the members pay a monthly membership fee. The film chronicles the transformation of Woodroof from a bigoted dirt bag to a champion of rights and services for HIV+ and AIDS patients.
McConaughey did more than just lose an exorbitant amount of weight to take on the role of Ron Woodroof. Sure, his born and bred Texas accent also helped, but McConaughey fully committed himself to the role of Ron Woodroof. In the beginning of the film he is an unlikable character and by the end he is a rebel hero fighting for the downtrodden against the pharmaceutical industry and the IRS. McConaughey maintained this transformation evenly, never succumbing to caricature. At times he makes the audience laugh with him, even in the most depressing scenarios, and at other times he makes the audience’s eyes well. The ability to do this takes range and, after Dallas Buyer Club, McConaughey has cemented himself as a serious actor. He seems light years away from films like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and The Wedding Planner and it’s rewarding to see an actor grow in this way.
McConaughey won’t be the only one is this film with an Oscar nomination this year. Jared Leto, as Rayon, gives a remarkable performance. The Thirty Seconds to Mars front-man plays the supporting role in this film with tremendous grace. He also complements McConaughey’s character and the two actors exhibit chemistry similar to Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau in the film The Odd Couple.
Jennifer Garner nicely rounds out the cast. Her supporting role is more subtle than Leto’s, but it’s her compassionate character that helps ground the film between the highs and lows.
As stated earlier, Matthew McConaughey is deserving of an Oscar nomination this year for his portrayal of Ron Woodroof. However, I couldn’t help but feel a little strange in the scenes where McConaughey’s character breaks down and cries. It was at these moments that I knew he was going for an Oscar, and that is the problem. I want to walk out of a film blown away by an actor’s performance and say, “He deserves an Oscar, or at least a nomination.” But I don’t want to pinpoint two or three moments when I felt the actor was trying to go for the award. The fault with these scenes could even be in direction, or the script, but the end result is the same. They were not seamless and too obvious.
The only other fault with Dallas Buyers Club is the lack of wrap-up at the end. The film finishes abruptly and we hardly get any summation afterwards telling us what happens to these Buyers Clubs and the epidemic in general at that time. Sure, I can Wikipedia it after the film, but that may interfere with my inherent laziness.
Dallas Buyers Club reminds us that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s was a horrible and scary phenomenon that took so many innocent lives. It’s an important film because it also gives present media attention to this disease that still has no cure and continues to affect so many people. It also showcases Matthew McConaughey’s talents and lets us know he’s ready to play with the big boys. Watch out Clooney!
Take a Drink: every time someone says, “AZT.”
Take a Drink: every time McConaughey takes a vitamin or gives himself an injection.
Do a Shot: every time Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey ) cries.
Shogun a Beer: when it’s revealed how thin Rayon (Jared Leto) has become. It will be an excuse to look away from the screen.