“Dallas Buyers Club” (2013)
When we first meet Ron (Matthew McConaughey) it’s 1985 in Dallas, Texas. He is at a rodeo, having sex with a girl hidden in the back with the horses. Then we see him make a few bets on himself to complete a rodeo ride. After failing that, he tries to escape from the other cowboys so that he doesn’t have to pay. Ron is a hard living electrician who rodeos on the side and tries to sleep with any woman he can. After ending up at a hospital due to a fainting spell, Ron is given the news that he is HIV positive and is told to get his affairs in order, he will die in 30 days. Ron at first doesn’t believe his diagnosis of being HIV positive as it is the time when most people thought AIDS was a disease that only effected homosexuals and intravenous drug addicts.
After going through a few drug and alcohol enhanced days, Ron decides to research his “death sentence.” First to see if it was even possible for a straight man to become HIV positive and then was there any treatment. He soon learns of treatments such as AZT and meets a young doctor (Jennifer Garner) who cares for her patients and wants only the best treatment for them. Ron finds out that getting the trial drugs in the U.S. is tough, so he begins looking for any way possible to get on a treatment program. He discovers that there are experimental drugs readily available in Mexico and Europe, and there are a lot of people, like him that are willing to pay for any sort of treatment. Ron seizes this opportunity to make money and goes to extremes to get the drugs into the U.S. from all over the world.
This is a film where you don’t like the main character, in this case McConaughey’s Ron, at the start of the film. Ron is a hard living, sleep with as many women as you can, homophobic man. We do see a bit of compassion in him when a fellow worker gets injured, and the crew debates if they should call for an ambulance since the worker is an undocumented alien. Ron insists that they call for help. Then takes point in getting the man treatment. This gives us a little insight into Ron and that their just might be some hope for him in the future.
Much has been said about the weight loss that McConaughey went through for the part, but it’s his acting prowess that is really on display in this film. McConaughy lets us see the man that Ron was at the beginning of the film, a man so self-assured to the point of being a jerk. Then slowly Ron’s humanity sinks into his character, to the point that we see the character’s growth as the layers are peeled away revealing his personality. McConaughey is one of those truly gifted actors that bores deep into their roles. You don’t see McConaughey when you see him on screen. Instead, you only see the hard edges of Ron’s life, a man who is determined to live as long as he can.
The supporting cast is outstanding in this film. Ron meets a transsexual named Rayon (Jared Leto) at one of his many trips to the hospital. At first, Ron can only see a very gay man who has nothing in common, other than both men are HIV positive. Ron realizes very early on that most of his potential customers for the HIV fighting drugs will be gay, and this homophobic cowboy is going to need help reach that audience. Ron then recruits Rayon to help sell the drugs and a unique partnership is created. Leto is amazing in the role, letting us and Ron see the disease through a very different pair of eyes. Leto does a chameleon-like transformation in becoming very feminine as Rayon, who is at first just a tool for the purpose of selling drugs. Then he helps teach Ron how to become a more understanding person. Leto gives a performance of a lifetime, giving his heart and soul into a role that a less skilled actor could have made very campy. Instead, his flawed character makes Ron want to be a better person. Griffin Dunne does a fine job as an unlicensed doctor living in Mexico who treats Ron when Ron has nowhere else to go. His treatment at the Mexican clinic gives Ron the insight to seek alternate drugs and treatments. Jennifer Garner plays a doctor that treats Ron very early in the film and becomes someone that Ron leans on when things get tough.
The film, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallck, “Dallas Buyers Club” moves at a comfortable pace that allows us to see the progression of the main character. It’s that transformation, along with the performances of McConaughey and Leto that make this film so special and the reason to watch it. It’s a film that never sugar coats the subject matter or characters, instead it makes the despair and death become something of hope and humanity. It’s a film that celebrates the overcoming of the odds.
My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again