In 1985, Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof’s wild days of womanizing, drinking and bull-riding came to a screeching stop when he discovered he was diagnosed with HIV. Refusing to believe he had what was considered a homosexual illness at the time, Ron initially tries to blow it off and deny he has anything but a cold. But as he begins to do some research and discovers all of his symptoms are HIV-related, Ron quickly begins to accept the fact he has the virus but not that he will die in thirty days.
Shunned and abandoned by his old friends and not qualifying for any experimental medical trials due to the severity of his condition, Ron begins tracking down alternative forms of treating the illness and other drugs which are not legal in the States but are having some success in treating the sickness south of the border. Ron has some success with the drugs and realizes there is money to be made by transporting them over the border to get them to HIV patients in Texas. Bypassing and ignoring the law and the medical establishment, Ron teams up with Rayon (Jared Leto) – a cross-dressing homosexual who’s also HIV-positive he met once in the hospital getting emergency treatment – because Rayon knows many who are infected and are desperate for the illegal medicine. Struggling to find a loophole to use to get around selling the drugs illegally, Ron starts up his own business – The Dallas Buyers Club – where the clients pay dues to be a member of the club but the drugs are free.
Based on a true story, The Dallas Buyers Club is an engaging story effectively taking the moviegoing audience back to a time when HIV and AIDS were running rampant through America and the public’s fear and lack of knowledge about the virus and the disease was at an all-time high. Matthew McConaughey delivers what’s sure to be an Oscar nominated performance as Ron Woodroof, a beer drinking, hard-living cowboy whose world is turned upside down when he learns he’s contracted the deadly virus but finds the determination and the willpower to do whatever it takes to treat his condition and lengthen his lifespan and eventually become a voice for many of those fighting the same battle. McConaughey, who’s almost unrecognizable with his weight loss and his change in appearance, captures both the deceptive con man looking to cash in on any opportunity and the terrified cowboy who desperately wants his life to have meaning. It’s his best performance since We Are Marshall.
Jared Leto gives the best performance of his career as Rayon, Ron’s unlikely business partner and way into the infected homosexual community. It’s a sensitive, troubling, and at times uncomfortable performance of a person who’s become an outcast in the eyes of society and Leto is terrific as he show Rayon’s struggle to keep on living. Jennifer Garner is wasted in the film as Eve, the doctor who at first resents and fears Ron’s ‘Buyers Club’ but eventually begins to see some of the real good he’s accomplishing while the medical professionals are still struggling to find treatments that work. It’s a role that feels oversimplified and never comes across authentic. In fact, it’s almost as though her character was written in to have a caring, sympathetic, heterosexual woman doctor for Ron to win over and flirt with…sigh.
The direction and script capture wonderfully the paranoia, prejudice, and fear even among the medical community of the HIV virus and the uncertainty of how anyone could contract it and, worse yet, not having any way of treating or managing it.
The film’s pacing is a problem with the slow start and boring montage of Ron sneaking around and dealing behind hospitals to get medicine illegally as well as the number of scenes of Ron giving medicine to clients at his ‘clinic’. It becomes tedious and unnecessary, as are most of the scenes in the second half of the film between McConaughey and Garner.
Dallas Buyers Club is an intriguing movie capturing one man’s desperate fight to live and make a difference while he still can.
– By Kevin Finnerty
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