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Movie review: 'Dallas Buyers Club' tells a unique kind of underdog story

Dallas Buyers Club


Twenty years into his film career, the always entertaining Matthew McConaughey gives the performance of a lifetime in director Jean-Marc Vallee’s “Dallas Buyers Club”. Based on true events, the story is set during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, but under the director and the casts’ craftsmanship, it becomes more than a biographical film; rather, it is the moving tale of one man’s quest for survival.

Matthew McConaughey in his Oscar-nominated role as Ron Woodroof in "Dallas Buyers Club"
Focus Features

Set in 1985 Dallas, McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a redneck electrician who divides his time between bull riding, doing drugs, and sleeping with anything that walks. When an accident on the job lands him in the hospital, his blood work reveals that he is HIV+, and his doctors only give him thirty days to live. Ron dismisses their diagnosis at first, calling it a “faggot’s disease”, but upon further research he realizes that his extreme lifestyle probably did make him susceptible to the virus.

Ron immediately tries anything he can to relieve his symptoms and extend his life; when the new drug AZT only worsens his condition, he turns to natural remedies and vitamins. Against his better judgment he partners with Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender man who also has AIDS, to form the Dallas Buyers Club. Travelling around the world acquiring drugs from wherever he can, Ron sells the other AIDS patients of Dallas all the meds they want for one monthly fee, much to the frustration of the doctors at the hospital, including Eve (Jennifer Garner), who is trying to test AZT but keeps losing patients to Ron. Meanwhile, the FDA tries to take legal action against him, as nothing he is bringing in to the country is FDA-approved—even though it seems to be helping more than AZT.

In the, “Dallas Buyers Club” isn’t about AIDS, or the inefficiency of the FDA. Rather, it’s a sort of twisted underdog story. We all know that Ron will die from his disease at some point—that is inevitable. But it’s his determination to endure for as long as possible, as well as help others in his situation, that is so admirable. It’s also a story of acceptance, something that resonates as strongly in our culture today as it almost thirty years ago, when this film takes place. At the beginning, Ron is homophobic, but by the end of the film, as it associates more and more with homosexuals and others as a result of his business, he becomes accepting of them, friends with them—it could even be said that he loves some of them. Ron’s change feels genuine because it isn’t rushed; in fact, he behaves rather grudgingly toward Rayon for most of the film.

Furthermore, the chemistry between McConaughey and Leto is amazing and carries much of the film. If the relationship between Ron and Rayon didn’t work, or didn’t feel sincere, the film wouldn’t have worked, because it would have ended with Ron being just as despicable a person as he was in the film’s beginning. But their onscreen friendship is the kind I think everyone wants to have at some point in their lives. They argue, they make fun of each other, they don’t even admit out loud that they like each other, but they don’t need words—it’s apparent through their actions that they look out for each other. McConaughey and Leto’s performances are both outstanding and spot on, from the humorous moments to the emotionally-charged ones. Leto in particular undergoes a complete transformation to portray Rayon, a man trying to become a woman, and simpy disappears inside his character. McConaughey, meanwhile, turns Ron from a person you’ll want to hate to, by the film’s climax, a person you’ll want to root for.

“Dallas Buyers Club” ends rather abruptly, and it probably sends the wrong message about the effectiveness of AZT, although a note at the end of the film does state that it was later successfully used in smaller doses to treat patients. Eve is also sometimes a confusing character, as she vacillates too much between wanting to help Ron and trying to stop him. However, these are all relatively minor flaws in a film that’s filled with perfection, and proves, at least in the case of Matthew McConaughey, that some things really do get better with age.

Runtime: 117 minutes. Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use.

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