'Dallas Buyers Club' a grim, compassionate tale of HIV in the 80s

'Dallas Buyers Club' a grim, compassionate tale of HIV in the 80s

Credit: Courtesy: Focus Features

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in the Focus Features film "Dallas Buyers Club."




Posted on November 15, 2013 at 10:53 AM

Updated Saturday, Feb 1 at 1:35 AM

Similar to his performance in Mud earlier this year, Matthew McConaughey is once again in top form in Dallas Buyers Club, which opened wide on Friday.

Based on true events and accompanied by actors Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn and more, Dallas Buyers Club is a dramatic survival story of one man’s fight against HIV/AIDS and his struggle to combat the government, pharmaceutical companies, doctors and those around him for respect, proper medication and treatment. 

This film is unsettling, intensely graphic and features McConaughey and Leto in almost physically unrecognizable roles.

Dallas Buyers Club follows the life of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a loud-mouthed, heavy drinking and cigarette smoking heterosexual who is diagnosed with AIDS as a result of his excessive involvement in drugs and unprotected casual sex. Woodroof is given only 30 days to live, and after some personal research and self-treatment, he survives, living seven more years and using what he learns about the virus to help others who are HIV-positive to acquire non-FDA approved medication. 

Woodroof is portrayed as a hero for standing up to those who seemingly bully the AIDS community, and although today’s society is much more educated on AIDS then the time period this film depicts, it is still a sensitive subject and often times tough to watch. If you can get past the rough content, it’s quite an intriguing movie. 

Dallas Buyers Club addresses a major issue involving the belief or accusation that the pharmaceutical companies and the FDA work together for profits-sake, which causes some to not receive proper treatment due to FDA regulations or insufficient funds. There is simply no cure for certain diseases such as HIV, but there are ways of staying alive with the right drugs. This film reveals the frustration and desperation of terminal patients and their fight to stay alive. 

Opening and closing with a Texas rodeo setting, Dallas Buyers Club takes place near Dallas. The first scene shows Woodroof in a back room, gambling at the rodeo, where he notices a nearby newspaper article about actor Rock Hudson having AIDS and proceeds to make a degrading homophobic slur –– a remarkably ironic moment, considering Woodroof is soon diagnosed as HIV-positive. 

While working as an electrician, he gets shocked and ends up in the hospital, where he suddenly learns he has HIV. With a constant cough and a steady ringing through his ears, he continues to drink and drug. At first, he seems to be in denial and continues to abuse his body, but feeling worse and worse, Woodroof comes crawling back to the hospital. 

Through his research and after speaking with the doctors, he learns that there is a new drug, AZT, which is in its trial phase and being distributed to patients at random. Woodruff begins taking it for a short time, only to get worse, and eventually makes his way down to Mexico, where he meets a U.S. doctor whose license has been revoked. He impresses Woodroof with his research and treatments for ill patients. And Woodroof, being smart, broke, and borderline panicked, finds a way to acquire similar drugs, vitamins and proteins that help prolong his life and decrease the side effects. 

Knowing there are others like him and seeing a way of making money, Woodroof opens a club where paid members can get unlimited access to the medications they need. With the help of a new transsexual friend, Rayon (Leto), who he meets in the hospital, and a friendly local physician, Dr. Saks (Garner), Woodroof opens The Dallas Buyers Club and begins helping the local AIDS community. 

Already established in other cities, the club is effective to an extent but quickly draws the attention of the government. Woodruff spends the rest of the film getting shut down, reopening and fighting for the right to receive the drugs that have been proven to work but have yet to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The most noticeable part of this film is the appearances of McConaughey and Leto, who are both dramatically thinner than their previous big screen roles. McConaughey plays a typical, loud-mouthed cowboy whose body seems to shrink to skeletal in front of our eyes. 

In Leto’s case, he is all but unrecognizable in his role as an HIV-positive transvestite. Similarly, his body appears to shrivel up to a gross, bone-showing AIDS victim. Both men heavily mistreat their bodies throughout the film, making their disease worse. 

The performances by these two actors are outstanding. They obviously prepared intensely beforehand to bring the true story to the screen in grim detail, creating a mix of disgust and compassion in the viewer. 

For as serious the content, Dallas Buyers Club has a refreshing sense of comedy, with much credit due to McConaughey and Leto. Their characters are sarcastic, funny, outright mean, or completely inappropriate. Dallas Buyers Club feels like an old, simple film not tied down by wild effects and an implausible story, but yet a real life, frightening story heavily driven by its characters and meaning. This is unlike anything else I’ve seen this year and most definitely worth your time.

Rated 3.8 out of 5 stars.

Dallas Buyers Club is rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use. Running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.

Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting.

As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at haydenp@youplusmedia.com.