Matthew McConaughy, recent Oscar winner, plays Ron Woodroof, a cowboy from Texas who discovers he’s HIV positive. This is the 1980s, and Ron refuses to believe his adrenaline-pumping lifestyle is coming to an end. How could this be, he constantly asks himself. How can he only have a few weeks to live?
Ron does not go down without a gargantuan fight. Learning that there are trial drugs available, but not technically approved by the Food & Drug Administration, he sets out on a global quest to import as many medications as he can to save himself and others with AIDS. Along the way, he sets up a business with Rayon (Jared Leto, also an Oscar winner), a transgender woman similarly interested in making her final days both meaningful and profitable. Together they set up the Dallas Buyers Club, an underground pharmacy that dispenses unapproved medication to Texas-area residents who are HIV positive. Ron sets up the system while Rayon helps with publicity in the gay community. Together they become a formidable team.
Denis O’Hare, of HBO’s True Blood, plays a local doctor involved in a shady drug trial with a large pharmaceutical company. His protege is Dr. Eve Sacks (Jennifer Garner), a woman who learns to accept Ron’s unusual method of business.
The movie, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, is a character-driven piece that looks at the incredible arc of Ron’s life. Here’s a rough-and-tumbles, homophobic cowboy unwilling to accept what the doctors say. He decides to turn his zany ideas into real money. Although his intentions may start as monetary in nature, they soon become personal. He realizes, with the help of Rayon, that he’s dispensing hope and life much more than collecting money. Through Rayon, he learns the value of acceptance and equality. They share a bond, and this diagnosis has brought them together.
McConaughey has turned his career around (this was a common talking point on Oscar night), and Dallas Buyers Club features his best performance to date. Ron is an original character, and the actor sinks his teeth into the role, giving it his all. Leto matches his skill with ease. As Rayon, the actor couples a fashion sense with a dejected feeling of loneliness. In a strange way, Rayon and Ron complete each other, trading off their positives and trying to deal with their negatives. It makes sense that they would become business partners and friends.
Vallée needs to be commended for harnessing the power of these two actors, plus adding in the genuine skill of Garner as the well-reasoned doctor.
Dallas Buyers Club tells the never-dull story of courage in the face of adversity and how one deals with the most unfortunate of news. By telling this tale, we become witness to an uncomfortable time period in American history when so many government officials looked the other way.
If there needed to be a criticism of the movie (and this is a small one), it’s that the government’s ineptitude is mostly summarized by a single man working for the FDA. His character feels like a combination of multiple roles, and it’s difficult to believe that the same guy would be so influential throughout the entire narrative.
Dallas Buyers Club will likely stand as career achievements for McConaughey and Leto. Watching their discoveries is exhilarating.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Dallas Buyers Club
Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée
Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack
Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner and Denis O’Hare
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use