Úna Hennessey delves into the dark world of the underground HIV drugs ring of the 80s.
Dallas Buyers Club is the true story of a bigoted, whiskey swilling redneck and his growth as a human being after he learns he has ‘full blown’ AIDS and is forced to come to terms with his own mortality. Set in mid-80s America at the height of the AIDS crisis, Ron Woodruff, played by an intense and emaciated-looking Matthew McConaughey discovers that he has been infected with the HIV virus and sets out to get anything he can to treat it. Deserted by his unforgiving friends, Woodruff is despairing but soon rallies his wits to fight, instead of giving in to his death sentence.
He soon discovers that the newest drug being tested in human trials is toxic, and sets out to seek alternative medicine. He starts a business selling membership to the eponymous club in exchange for more effective, unapproved medication, with the help of a transgender woman called Rayon. Originally told by doctors he had 30 days to live, his methods improve his symptoms and add years to his life. Constantly thwarted by those who seek to destroy him, he ruthlessly fights on to gain the right to treat himself as he sees fit.
The main driving forces of the film are the performances of the two leading actors. McConaughey delivers a sterling enactment of the straight-talking, drug abusing Woodruff, and Jared Leto is fascinating as the wily, spirited Rayon. Jennifer Garner is perhaps miscast as the concerned, gentle doctor who acts as a sort of love interest for the doomed Woodruff. Her scenes are uncomfortable as her performance and suitability for the role is weak.
The film certainly highlights the devastation that AIDs wreaks on the bodies and lives of the its sufferers, and the relentlessness of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the pharmaceutical giants who eventually provoke the change of law which makes the unapproved drugs illegal. Woodruff embodies the films tagline: ‘Dare to live’, travelling to Israel and Japan to get the medicine he and his fellow sufferer’s need. This isn’t a sentimental story however, besides his own welfare, Ron only cares about money and sex, and the attempt to set up the film as an inspiring story with a carpe diem message somehow falls short.
There are some moments of brilliance, which unquestionably make the film worth watching. Ron threatens to give Rayon the sex change she’s always wanted by way of a bullet to the groin, and a superb short trick in a strip club. Woodruff is deserted by his unforgiving friends in a great bar scene, and Rayon flounces into Ron’s car working her flamboyant charm on the unsettled “homophobic hetero.”
The film has been nominated for various awards including the Best Picture and Best Actor nods to McConaughey and Leto, with the latter rumoured to be a shoe-in for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar after his win at the Golden Globes. While a promising and entertaining film, Dallas Buyers Club seems unclear about what tone to bring to the table.