Tagline: Dare to live.
Set in the 1980s and inspired by true events, the movie follows the story of Texan electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), who spends his time chasing women and hustling people at the rodeo. But after he is diagnosed with AIDS and given an estimated 30 days left to live – a prognosis he initially refuses to accept – Ron loses his friends, his job, and his home. Desperate not to lose his life, he tries to seek treatment, only to realize not much help is available.
In the hopes that he can benefit from a trial drug, AZT, which is still being tested and is not widely available, he bribes a hospital worker to acquire the pills, but despite its use, his health deteriorates. He is eventually led to a hospital in Mexico, where a doctor who has lost his license prescribes him alternative medication that improves his health. Ron sees this as a business opportunity, and starts smuggled these unapproved drugs into the United States and selling them to other AIDS patients who are unable to get what they need through the medical system.
Assisting him in this venture is Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender AIDS patient whom the homophobic Ron is initially antagonistic towards but then reluctantly teams up with and eventually befriends and grows to respect. Together they set up the Dallas Buyers Club, which becomes extremely popular despite being targeted by the FDA for dispensing unapproved drugs.
A poignant portrayal of struggling with a fatal disease and a less-than-helpful system as well as the lack of acceptance and tolerance for the patients, the movie makes good use of all its elements and puts them together skilfully. The shades of grey that have been written into the script help make the characters seem more real. Ron, for instance, isn’t a saint, and the writers haven’t tried to pass him off as one. He is selfish and rowdy but also impassioned and charismatic, which is why his journey from homophobia to compassion is all the more powerful.
It also helps, of course, that he is being portrayed masterfully by McConaughey, and it’s not just his much talked about weight loss and physical transformation but also his dramatic flair in the role that has won him so much acclaim. Matching (and perhaps even outshining) him is the amazing Jared Leto. Rayon is not an easy role to pull off, but he does so with tenderness and grace, and keeps his character’s humanity intact without slipping into cliché and caricature. And despite the fact that his character isn’t based on a real person, Leto’s Rayon is powerful and complex, and perhaps the most touching and memorable element of the movie.
Also of note is the performance by Griffin Dunne as the unlicensed American doctor in Mexico. And although Jennifer Garner’s Eve Saks, the doctor who catches Ron’s eye, is perhaps a little too generic, the actress performs well in the role.
As with most Hollywood biographical dramas, Dallas Buyers Club’s focus isn’t on factual accuracy and it isn’t exactly an unimpeachable portrayal of reality. But it’s the film’s moving tale combined with the performances of its main actors that make the movie so affecting. Plus the occasional sardonic humor keeps the proceedings from getting too dry. Stirring and inspiring, Dallas Buyers Club is well-crafted and proficiently executed, and powered by two strong acting performances that are poignant, memorable, and, perhaps most importantly, heartbreakingly human.
Sameen Amer’s name was mistakenly omitted from her Inside Llewyn Davis’ review, published on March 23, 2014. The error is regretted.