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Dallas Buyers Club - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Dallas Buyers Club
Directing: A-
Acting: A-
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-

Dallas Buyers Club tells the true story of a straight man who contracted HIV in the 1980s, then capitalized on the need for drugs not yet FDA approved. As always, the "true" part of "true story" must be taken with a grain of salt when presented as a movie; here, the ignorantly bigoted Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) systematically sheds his bigotry and homophobia with suspicious swiftness and simplicity. If one must find fault with this movie, though, that's about all there is.

At least director Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria), who deserves much more recognition than he has received to date, is honest about that bigotry. Ron is a guy who leads a decidedly blue-collar life as a mechanic and rodeo performer in Dallas, Texas. And we see from the opening shot that he is carefree with his sexual escapades with women. Turns out, Ron is among the few early-days straight men to contract the virus from unprotected heterosexual sex. He has done nothing the world in which he lives stigmatizes: he's just a guy who fucks a lot.

In fact, after having blood work done at a hospital and being told he has the virus, Ron naturally refuses to believe it. He is told he likely has thirty days to live. Who wouldn’t respond to that news with denial?

Ron, it turns out, is an exceptional individual. He might even have surprised himself, except isn't the type to think about such things. He simply goes into survival mode. Unlike many others, who might resign themselves to a fate a doctor tells them, he takes a few days to face the facts of his circumstances, and then he goes to the library to do research. As his circle of friends, coworkers and drinking buddies recoil from him, his resolve strengthens. He learns about AZT and gets a hospital employee to sneak him some; when they start locking up the medication Ron is given an address in Mexico, where he can get drugs that are more effective but not yet FDA approved.

Thus begins the "Dallas Buyers Club": Ron starts to feel better on these unapproved medications, as sees a business opportunity. There is nothing benevolent about this "club's" beginnings; Ron is in it for the money. And, as has been proved time and again over decades, money speaks much more powerfully than homophobia. Ron quickly discovers that by far his greatest potential for clientele is among the "faggots" he's so disgusted by.

He meets a pre-op transsexual named Rayon (a wonderful Jared Leto), who serves as liaison, after convincing Ron to give him a 25% cut. There is where Ron's guard starts to come down: inevitably, after spending a lot of time together, Ron and Rayon develop a deep (yet platonic) affection for each other.

There's something particularly impressive about Matthew McConaughey's career to date; this is a guy with a specific Southern accent that he really never alters for any role -- and yet he's gotten consistent work for twenty years. Now in his forties, the past couple of years have seen the best roles of his career, some of them in which he disappears, even with the accent. Ron Woodroof is perhaps the greatest example so far; McConaughey lost 38 pounds for the role, making him look genuinely sick. The gauntness certainly lends authenticity, but the delivery is generating Oscar buzz that is well deserved. The same could be said of Jared Leto, who himself shed 30 pounds and makes for an effectively heartbreaking case.

Dallas Buyers Club isn't exactly a barrel of laughs, but it has just the right amount of uplift, as an example of the resourcefulness borne of desperation among a plagued community given little help in the early days of the AIDS crisis. There's definitely a cultural difference here as well, being one of the few stories told from outside New York or California. Ron Woodroof learned of similar buyers clubs in New York City; that's how he got past some of the laws at the start of his enterprise, by "selling memberships" -- $400 a month -- and then "giving away" the unapproved medication that he cannot legally sell. The government keeps coming at him anyway, one particular agent (Michael O'Neill) presented as a villain, and much of the movie details the many close calls Ron has with them.

Ron also befriends a woman doctor at the hospital, Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), flirting with her under any and all circumstances. This still makes for an unusual movie relationship, as Ron conscientiously abstains from sex after learning of his HIV status. In one instance he discovers a female club member and has sex with her; the scene never makes clear whether or not he used a condom. This being the early eighties, they perhaps still didn't know that unprotected sex is still dangerous even if both partners are infected.

Thematically, Dallas Buyers Club is not particularly unique; what sets it apart is the context of this story, its setting, and its delivery. It underscores the ignorance, fear and panic of the time; particularly when Ron's friends don't understand how to respond appropriately. He is even evicted from his home, something we mustn't forget happened to many other infected people. Ron was lucky in that he had a self-important boldness that ultimately saved him for several years.

AIDS was still far from the "manageable disease" it is widely seen to be today -- and it's still misleading to look at it that way. None of the drugs Ron got his hands on, all of which he deliberately tested on himself first before distributing (resulting in some extra trips to the hospital), came anywhere close to being a cure. They simply bought him time, and the club he offered bought many other people -- those who could afford it -- time. Ron is ultimately shown to be a little less stingy with his $400 price, right when his operation is getting close to being shut down. But whatever the intentions, this is a guy who made a difference, and it's a story well told.

Jared Leto and Matthew Matthew McConaughey partner up in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.

Overall: A-
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