Organizing bets at the local rodeo and then running off when his partner in the ring loses, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a sketchy white trash hustler and a reckless electrician, inhabiting mid-1980s Texas. At his work, he electrocutes himself and is taken to the Dallas Mercy hospital, where Dr. David Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) inform Ron that he has HIV and his T cell count is down to 9 (a healthy person has between 1000 and 1500). Shocked that he’s even alive, the medics give him 30 days left to live.
Despite being initially convinced that he’s invincible (through denial), immediately snorting cocaine, drinking alcohol, and acquiring hookers to defy what he insists is a mistake, by “Day 7” he’s bribing a janitor to supply him with the controversial anti-AIDS drug AZT. At a bar with his friends, he’s accused of being gay, a particularly biting insult considering he’s openly homophobic (and marginally racist), and at work he’s shunned to the point that he’s simply forced to leave. By the 28th day, he collapses and is again hospitalized, where he meets outgoing and friendly transvestite Rayon (Jared Leto).
On the 30th day, he heads to Mexico where he’s treated with a less toxic anti-viral, which has not been approved by the FDA – and is nourished back to moderate health to live an additional three months and counting. Deciding to head back to Texas and sell the more efficient drug for a sizable profit, he’s aided by Rayon and his wealth of similarly sexually oriented, potential clients. Using a legal loophole for selling the medicines, he forms the “Dallas Buyers Club,” where the goods are free, provided that members pay dues of $400 per month. After nearly twelve months pass, regulations are created (in 1987) that illegalize his unapproved supplies, forcing him to seek the importation of more and more experimental drugs from Japan, Amsterdam, Israel, Mexico, and elsewhere, while circumventing the FDA’s harassment and prohibitive policies, to assist hundreds of patients to outlive their own assumedly limited longevities.
It’s emotional and dramatic watching Woodroof change – from vitriolic con man and hateful homophobe to self-destructive roisterer; from tolerant witness to supportive colleague; and finally to endearing friend. Extending his life, making money, and helping fellow infected persons gives him the strength to flirt with Eve, study the disease and conduct his own research, and unrelentingly pursue ways around the restrictive FDA and the unmistakable corruption of large pharmaceutical companies. His rapidly altering viewpoint showcases McConaughey’s supremely effective portrayal of a common man pushed to extreme desperation, who miraculously and positively copes with frighteningly real mortality.
McConaughey’s performance isn’t limited to modifying mannerisms, styling, and the delivery of dialogue. In “Dallas Buyers Club,” he also undergoes a physical transformation, like many devoted method actors of our time, losing plenty of weight to depict the draining, consuming aftermath of the virus/disease. Leto’s supporting turn is also a momentous occasion, certain to attract year-end awards consideration. But despite solid acting and an engaging story, the film lacks the power and intensity of comparable projects, including “Philadelphia,” “Precious,” and even “Kids,” which prevents it from being as memorable or affecting as this alarming subject matter ought to be on film – and which generally comes more naturally, especially given the obvious avenues of sentimentality and tear-jerker manipulation through incurable malady.
- The Massie Twins