Published Sep 25, 2013With all of the medical breakthroughs made in the past few decades, HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was. Today, most take for granted just how devastating an HIV diagnosis could be, and the corresponding societal ostracization. The '80s weren't that long ago, but the differences in how HIV patients were treated then versus now are worlds apart.
In Dallas Buyers Club, the year is 1985 and AIDS is still largely known as "the gay disease." Texan Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a cocky, hustling, homophobic ladies man that enjoys fornicating with the local skanks — the film opens with a scene of him and two women in a rodeo bullpen — suddenly finds himself in uncharted waters when he's diagnosed with HIV. Told he only has 30 days to live, he not only has to deal with the medical blow he's dealt, but must also face (often violently) his former buddies and co-workers, who assume Ron was gay all along.
Initially in a state of denial, Ron quickly accepts his condition and seeks help from the sympathetic Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), taking control of his fate in an attempt to save and prolong his life. AZT (the only drug at the time that showed some success in combating the virus) was in clinical trials, but Ron finds ways to get his hands on it. Quickly discovering the drug has numerous negative side-effects, he heads to Mexico in search of alternative treatment and meets a former American doctor whose non-narcotic methods have led to healthier options fighting the disease.
When the U.S. government challenges his efforts to smuggle the holistic but non-FDA approved medications home, he launches the Dallas Buyers Club. This club will allow fellow HIV patients to pay a monthly membership fee to obtain the treatments, thereby circumventing the law and ensuring that Ron can't be prosecuted as a drug peddler.
Initially seen as an outsider within the local gay community, Ron enlists the assistance of transsexual AIDS patient Rayon (Jared Leto), connecting him to the scene and establishing a level of trust. The Club quickly gains momentum, establishing Ron as an unlikely champion of not just the gay community but for the rights of patients seeking treatment.
Playing out as a dramatic retelling of the true story of Ron Woodroof, with the usual Hollywood embellishments, director Jean-Marc Vallée portrays this infamous moment of social U.S. history sensitively. Using a washed-out palette, the film has a gritty blue-grey aesthetic that perfectly captures the era and the locales.
With McConaughey and Leto both losing obscene amounts of weight for their respective roles, the inclination normally might be to scoff and label it gimmicky. However, in the case of Dallas Buyers Club, their transformations only serve to add to the authenticity of the story. Their performances are without a doubt Oscar-worthy and utterly captivating. That their unlikely business relationship leads to such personal introspection — on both sides — makes this one of the most unusual and emotionally compelling duos seen on screen.
Dallas Buyers Club is much more than just the usual epiphanies and life lessons found in similar films. It succeeds through the smallest moments of its story — those that not only acknowledge Ron Woodroof's memory, but pay homage to an entire assemblage of human suffering, communities and well-being. (Remstar)