FILM REVIEW: Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)

Dallas Buyers Club tells the (loosely) true story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), an apparently homophobic electrician and bull-rider who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1985. The film details Ron’s attempts to access medication which was not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, and his setting up of the Dallas Buyers Club, whereby he sold memberships to other HIV/AIDS sufferers so that they too could receive medication from outside America.  Ron is assisted by transgendered Rayon (Jared Leto), whilst he continues to dodge the FDA, IRS, and doctors who disapprove of his distribution of untrialled medication to their patients. Jennifer Garner stars as Dr. Eve Saks, one of the only doctors who is somewhat sympathetic to Ron’s cause.
Rayon & RonThe character of Ron is an interesting one. Initially we are introduced to his redneck lifestyle, consisting of casual sex, drugs, booze, gambling, a shitty home, and revolting friends. He starts off as a homophobe, who is deeply ashamed for acquiring HIV which he associates with the ‘faggots’ he despises. Of course, he comes good, and becomes a saviour of sorts to the HIV/AIDS population in Dallas, and starts to scrub up nicely while avoiding his previous vices. However, this typical villain-to-hero suggestion may be a bit of a stretch from reality. Reports from those that knew the real Ron Woodroof, suggest that he was in fact bisexual (not heterosexual as depicted in the film), and his homophobia has been debated, with some arguing that he was not the bigot that the film implies. He also wasn’t a bull-rider. So it begs the question, why were such liberties taken? Because it makes for a better story? But does it, even? Furthermore, Rayon and Eve are fictional characters, made up of various real individuals’ stories. That is, the two main supporting roles are characters who did not actually exist. It’s a little odd.
Rayon & EveWhat the film does accurately show (I think?), is the once fatal AIDS epidemic. We have indeed come a long way in the past thirty years, with HIV no longer being a death sentence in many countries. The situation in 1985 where the film begins is close to hopeless. Patients are only starting to receive AZT through involvement in medical trials (meaning half only get the placebo) and the dosage is at what is now known to be harmful levels. While Ron sources alternative drugs from Mexico and elsewhere, these have not been properly trialled and likely contain their own risks. Of course the victims of the disease are willing to try anything: they don’t have another choice. It is extremely depressing, but the advances in medicine since the time depicted on screen are truly remarkable and something we can rejoice about.
diagnosisYes, Matthew McConaughey will win the Oscar. At least, he should if there is any justice in the world. He lost over 20kg for the role but that’s not merely what is earning him all his accolades (as Tina Fey joked, that’s just what actresses call “being in a movie”). He is barely recognisable, and not just because of the weight loss and incredible hair and make-up (though that is a big part of it), but also because he fully embodies a role in which we have never seen him before. Some miserable reviewer who wrote a blog post on why he hates everything and everyone nominated for the Oscars criticised McConaughey for always playing a Texan, suggesting that he doesn’t have much scope as an actor as a result. Well bloody hell, being a good actor doesn’t have to mean being amazing at a tonne of different accents. He’s a Texan so obviously he’s a good choice for those sorts of roles. Geez Louise. Yeah he used to play the same-old romantic lead in films like The Wedding Planner (Adam Shankman, 2001) How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days (2003), Failure to Launch (Tom Dey, 2006), and Fool’s Gold (Andy Tennant, 2008). BUT HAVE YOU SEEN HIM LATELY? I dare you to check out any of Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011), The Paperboy (Lee Daniels, 2012), Mud (Jeff Nichols, 2012), Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese, 2013) or new television drama True Detective, and then tell me he is not INCREDIBLY, FANTASTICALLY talented. Yeah he mostly has the same accent in all of them. Who gives a crap? He has really done some stellar roles in the past few years and deserves a bit of respect. Alright, alright? Jared Leto (who lost 13kg) will be winning an Oscar too and yeah of course some people will bitch and moan that that’s only because he dresses in drag and that’s a sure fire way to win. Well boohoo, get over it. He does deserve to win. I mean, Jared Leto? He’s from Urban Legend (Jamie Blanks, 1998). Since when is he amazing? He seemed to just rise up from nowhere. But actually, check out Chapter 27 (J. P. Schaefer, 2007) where he plays John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman. He’s pretty crazy good in that too. Jennifer Garner is simply her beautiful self and was perfectly cast in an understated role.

A crazy transformation: From Magic Mike (2012) to Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
A crazy transformation: From Magic Mike (2012) to Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dallas Buyers Club really is worth seeing for the acting alone. But it does have further merits than that, even if the truthfulness of the story is somewhat questionable. It is a well-made film, conveying a deeply troubling time for many individuals, and while it may well cause some tears (one audience member was sobbing at multiple points), it is also an inspirational story of a man who lived well past his initial prognosis, and a reminder of how far modern medicine has come.

4 stars

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5 thoughts on “FILM REVIEW: Dallas Buyers Club”

  1. Great review. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this film considering he seems like a bigoted a-hole, but it seems like he might have some redeeming qualities? I’d be interested to know what kind of profit he made from selling the drugs and if he was exploiting sick peoples desperation to get well. Im also curious as to how they portrayed Jared Letos character as I often find transgender/transsexual people are treated very badly in film and often used as comic relief. Which really makes me angry. Do you think they were realistic and fair in their portrayal?
    Elyse http://www.theellecurve.com

    1. He was definitely making a profit and that was clearly his initial motivation, but it became more than that and it showed how he grew to care about Jared Leto’s character in particular. I thought they treated Leto’s character respectfully but I was reading that some people found it offensive because he was the butt of some easy jokes- but I barely recall anything like that so I’m not sure. I thought he was portrayed quite similarly to Angel in Rent.

      1. Interesting… I’m not sure how much I agree with that article, however I don’t think it’s my place to comment because I’m relatively ignorant on the issue.

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