The Premise: A young hustler contracts HIV and begins an underground business to bring untested medication to other afflicted individuals.
—— The Review
Loosely based on the story of Ron Woodruff who contracted HIV in the mid-80s when the disease was rampant but the drugs to fight it were in their infancy. Ron makes contact with an American Doctor working in Mexico who is able to bring in drugs that could potentially help those with HIV and AIDS but have not been properly analyze by the FDA. Ron begins to illegally import these untested drugs to the states where he sells them to the growing number of afflicted.
Ron Woodrufff (Matthew McConaughy, Mud, 2013) is a man’s man. He works hard all day as an electrician in the oil fields and in his off hours, pursues all manner of drink, narcotic and women with no clear view of his future but resolute in enjoying the here and now. After a work accident a Doctor recognizes Ron’s low white cell count and informs him of the disease he has. In 1985 AIDS was widely believed to be the disease of the gay community so, with great disbelief Ron, removes himself from the Hospital and while drunk confides in his then closest friend. Once the story reaches the rest of his workmates, Ron is ostracized from his work and friends leaving him alone in the world.
Dallas Buyers Club is a heartbreaking story of a dying man coming to grips with the outcome of a life of wild frenzy; a lesson, perhaps, to all the YOLOs out there who are living it up in the now but not capable of comprehending that a life is a long time and once your body catches up to your lifestyle all you have left is the beaten carcass. Ultimately Ron’s story is twofold: Regret for his fear and hate of the gay community and, learn how to be less selfish. And although they lay on the Homophobia a little thick at times Ron’s journey is a joy to watch (if ‘Joy’ is an appropriate word to use in this context).
McConaughy’s portrayal of Ron is a lesson in immersion; beneath the skin and bones of a dying man we have the strength of a fighter. A man not ready to die but aware that death is coming. Railing at his inevitable passing we witness a man calling Death’s bluff. The sheer willpower and perseverance of a man having been told by Doctors that he had 30 days to live and proving them wrong. I have always been a fan of McConaughys and this movie only proves to me how he is not just a movie star but an actor in the first degree.
Jared Leto (Chapter 27, 2007) transforms his body for his role as Ron’s partner Rayon. Rayon brings Ron a family environment he lost after he contracted his disease but also a warm centre that the rest of the chilly story can circle. A Transgender woman whom embodies all that Ron hated becomes Ron’s closest friend and confidant. Leto’s performance of Rayon is complicated with layers of bleak depression covered with forced exuberance. Wonderful to have Jared back on screen again and here’s to hoping he is back for good.
There seems to be two agendas in Dallas Buyers Club: the story of a man who dares to make money in the glaring face of death and the other: How dare the FDA not allow untested drugs in to the United States- both stories hidden inside a larger story that tries to turn a selfish man into a political hero.
But… It is the secondary story where the movie falters, the finger pointing to the FDA feels heavy handed and almost an afterthought in providing a stronger antagonist. Regardless whether this film is Ron’s story the FDA were simply doing their job; one can’t just drop any drug that shows even a modicum of perceived benefit on the public until tests are made. Some drugs have immediate effects yet long-term side effects. Thalidomide, anyone.
It seems to further cloud the subject of whether the FDA was doing their job or run by greedy individuals when the film tends to point out that bribes were being made by pharmaceutical companies to those in the FDA to allow the drug AZT (the only FDA approved drug at the time) to be used in test but not other drugs that other countries had better results. A grave situation if true but a shame that the writer’s used it for such shady means. The responsibility that filmmakers have when basing a film on a true subject is to be aware of the audience and what they will take from it. Is this a story about a man overcoming an healthy issue and intellectual ignorance or is this a Michael Moore film taking aim at a government coverup?
The direction by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., 2005) and cinematography of Yvés Bélenger we are brought eye level with the peoples that HIV affected. A picture painted in greys and blacks only to reveal a brighter colour of the world and characters inside a lonely time for many people. As we look down from Ron’s “castle” on the second floor of his motel room/office and view the weak and tired huddled masses standing in line for their medicine, hugging themselves to stave off cold lonely death awhile longer we are a participant; a faceless observer pulled in to Ron’s world, knowing the outcome but praying it isn't true.
—— The Denouement
Dallas Buyers Club is a must see film. A reminder of a time within our memories where we were ignorant. A time when news channels painted a grimmer picture of a sickness that scared us in to alienating instead of helping. Doing a much better job at telling a story and conveying an agenda than other Oscar hopeful 12 Years a Slave this film holds a mirror up to society and does not let it forget.
Superb acting by McConaughy and Leto. Great direction amid a story that does more right than wrong. A real shame that parents might be scared off by the R-rating as it is a story that should be shared with out children else they make the same mistakes. A film deserved of a second look and hopefully provoke discussions afterward.
James C. The Cold Open-BC