Dallas Buyers Club takes us back to 1985 when the AIDS epidemic was young, terrifying, and largely known as the “gay disease.” The film, based on a true story, introduces the audience to Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) a Texas electrician and sometimes rodeo bull rider. In graphic detail, we witness Ron indulge in heavy drinking, drug taking, and sexual escapades. When hospitalized on a work-related accident, Ron is told that he is HIV-positive and has approximately 30 days to live. Ron is horrified to hear this news, insisting that there must be some mistake because he isn’t gay.
Slowly the news sinks in, and Ron realizes how sick he is. His friends ridicule and abandon Ron when they hear his diagnosis. In the hospital, Ron meets a cross-dressing man named Rayon (Jared Leto), who also has AIDS. Ron is repulsed by Rayon and wants nothing to do with him. Still in a state of shock over the turn of events, Ron checks himself out of the hospital against the advice of his doctors.
Ron begins to read anything and everything relating to AIDS research and treatment. When he learns that most treatment in the United States is still in the experimental stage and largely restricted by the FDA, Ron travels to Mexico. There he witnesses alternative treatments that were meeting with some success.
Ron returns to Dallas and begins a black market venture to provide drugs, vitamins, supplements and other treatments unavailable in the United States to those infected by AIDS. He names this venture “Dallas Buyers Club.” Once again Ron encounters Rayon and enlists his help. Rayon spreads the word about the Buyers Club and begins an unlikely partnership with Ron. Ron begins to get stronger, and becomes an advocate for AIDS treatment and research. In doing so, Ron bucks the powerful FDA and medical establishment, which he accuses of dragging their feet while people are dying.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is notable for the performances of McConaughey and Leto as Ron and Rayon. Both are sure bets for Oscar nominations. McConaughey, known for years for his good looks and lightweight roles in romantic comedies, has the role of his career. Not only does he lose 40 pounds to play Ron, he also inhabits Ron’s soul. His transformation from a homophobic, hard living redneck to an AIDS activist is remarkable. McConaughey bares Ron’s soul as he finds himself in the unimaginable place of suffering from a “gay disease” with people he has no love for. Don’t get me wrong; Ron never emerges as a saint. Yet he does begin to care about people different from himself and become an advocate for their health care.
Leto is also terrific as Rayon. His scenes with Ron are great, as they become an “odd couple” of business partners. Rayon is vulnerable and delicate, yet there’s a toughness to him as well. In his best scene, Rayon, dressed in men’s clothes for the only time in the movie, goes to see his father at work to ask for financial assistance. It’s a difficult meeting for father and son; it’s apparent that they have not seen each other in many years. And they will never see each other again.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is a powerful, yet uneven film. Jennifer Garner also appears as a sympathetic doctor who befriends Ron, Rayon, and the AIDS community. Yet her role is underwritten. The movie becomes too consumed with Ron’s battles with the FDA, IRS, and medical community. Yet the performances and human drama kept me absorbed.
Be warned that the movie does not shy away from showing the details of Ron and his friends. The movie also contains pervasive profanity. This does not seem to be totally out of place in the context, although I do think it could have been toned down to some extent.
Tom Condon, OP