The opening scene of ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ says it all without any dialogue. It is set at a rodeo with a clown luring a bull away from a tossed cowboy. Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), a good ol’ boy Texan, peers through the pen while explicitly riding two female groupies. Inspired by true events from an article that appeared in The Dallas Morning News in 1992, the screenplay was written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. It’s taken that long for this compelling story to be told. McConaughey’s physical transformation is astonishing. He lost close to 50 pounds for the role and looks like a skeleton. It’s a remarkable and Oscar-worthy performance from the actor.
It’s 1985 and Woodroof is a hard-partying electrician and rodeo enthusiast. After falling ill, with a nagging cough and low T-cell count, doctors inform him that he has contracted AIDS and only has 30 days to live. Ron’s reaction is denial as he storms out of the doctor’s office. He is determined to prove them wrong by returning to his sex, drugs and hard-drinking lifestyle. He quickly realizes that there is something seriously wrong with him. It’s a powerful moment when he sits in his trailer park home alone and scared. Reality finally sinks in. The tough, scrappy cowboy is really sick. Most of the story deals with Ron’s search for alternative remedies to alleviate the symptoms of AIDS. When he learns the FDA-approved AZT is actually hurting instead of helping him, he smuggles unapproved drugs from Mexico disguised as a priest.
He meets up with an exiled American physician Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) who tells him AZT is poisonous and recommends a cocktail of vitamin and proteins instead. Ron’s condition improves and he defies his doctors by living well beyond 30 days. It sparks the idea to start importing the meds over the border and selling them to other AIDS patients. He creates a buyer’s club out of a motel room and charges $400 a month membership fees. He tries to convince one of his physicians Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) that he is helping those that are suffering more than the medical establishment. The FDA is portrayed as the bad guys working in cahoots with pharmaceutical companies. Along the way, Ron partners with Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual and fellow AIDS patient. It’s a compassionate performance from Leto and one of his best since ‘Requiem for a Dream.’ It’s their growing bond that transforms Ron from an unlikable homophobe to a crusader for the gay community.
There has been some criticism that a movie about a crisis that mainly affects homosexuals should not have a heterosexual as the central character. However, the fact that the protagonist is a straight man emphasizes that this is not a “gay man’s disease” and can affect anyone, even a Texas cowboy. Although some of the facts are skewed for dramatic effect, it is the performances of McConaughey and Leto that make this film a must-see. McConaughey has been on a roll lately with his film choices. After years of being typecasted in romantic comedies, he has found meatier, anti-hero roles in indie films such as ‘Killer Joe,’ ‘The Paperboy,’ and ‘Mud.’ His work in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is one of his best performances. The flawed homophobic racist Ron Woodroof is not a likable guy but McConaughey wins over the audience’s empathy. He shows Ron’s relentless will to live and eventual compassion for the people he initially shuns.
‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is playing exclusively at The Flicks, downtown Boise and an art house theater near you. Don’t miss one of the best independent films of the year. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/fvMPU0WaPcc.