Dallas Buyers Club – Movie Review

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Matthew McConaughey’s film career started with great promise with performances in Dazed and Confused and Amistad marking him out as one-to-watch, before his career descended into a decade-long stint of leaning against his Rom-Com co-stars in various movie posters and being arrested for nude bongo-playing in public (he says he now closes the curtains during drumming sessions). In the last couple of years he’s been undergoing what’s been described as a ‘McConnaisance’ with more serious and critically-acclaimed roles in Mud, Killer Joe and The Paperboy culminating in a Oscar nod for the AIDS drama Dallas Buyers Club.

Playing the real-life Ron Woodroof, a character whose macho rodeo cowboy attitude is so deeply ingrained that his initial denial of being diagnosed with AIDS perfectly summed up early attitudes towards the illness as purely being ‘a faggot scourge’. McConaughey puts in a perfectly judged performance as a man coming to terms with both his illness and the injustices inflicted against him and fellow sufferers from both the general public and those in authority charged with helping the vulnerable, but effectively do nothing but help.

Ron manages to surpass his Doctor’s initial diagnosis of having 30 days to live by bribing a hospital orderly to supply him with an experimental drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) called AZT. While the drug showed initial promise against AIDS, its trial strength ended up attacking healthy cells as well as HIV and made it unsuitable for longterm use. Despite overwhelming evidence from abroad that other, non-toxic, drugs are much more effective in heading off the virus, AZT was the only approved drug in the U.S. for treating AIDS.

Woodroof, along with his transexual business partner Rayon (played magnificently by 30 Seconds to Mars’ Jared Leto), legally import these non-approved drugs under the guise of the titular Dallas Buyers Club – a club that exploits a legal loophole to avoid members having to ‘buy’ drugs by subscribing to receiving them free for a monthly fee of $400. The club gets an unofficial thumbs-up from Ron and Rayon’s Doctor, played by a frustrated Jennifer Garner, who sees that AZT is not the answer and is caught between helping her patients and keeping her job at a hospital receiving substantial sums from the pharmaceutical company pushing AZT. With her help, Woodroof rages against the FDA, who are seemingly against finding a cure without being paid vast sums to test or allow anyone to take unapproved drugs or vitamin supplements, even when they are close to death.

Dallas Buyers Club is a touching drama that never allows itself to be overly cloying and perfectly straddles the line between humour and anger at its protagonists’ predicaments, while also exploring the main character’s transition from outright bigotry and selfishness to a more accepting attitude to his fellow sufferers. Don’t bet against the Academy sending a gold statue the way of a nude Texan bongoist in March.

peter watts


Review by Peter Watts