Dallas Buyers Club

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1985, Dallas electrician and rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof is diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. He initially refuses to accept the diagnosis, but remembers having unprotected sex with an intravenous drug-using prostitute. Ron quickly finds himself ostracized by family and friends, gets fired from his job, and is eventually evicted from his home. At the hospital, he is tended to by Dr. Eve Saks, who tells him that they are testing a drug called zidovudine (AZT), an antiretroviral drug which is thought to prolong the life of AIDS patients —and which is the only drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for testing on humans. Saks informs him that in the clinical trials, half the patients receive the drug and the other half are given a placebo, as this is the only way they can determine if the drug is working.

Ron bribes a hospital worker to get him the AZT. As soon as he begins taking it, he finds his health deteriorating (exacerbated by his cocaine use). When Ron returns to the hospital, he meets Rayon, a drug addict, and HIV-positive trans woman, toward whom he is hostile. As his health worsens, Ron drives to a Mexican hospital to get more AZT. Dr. Vass, who has had his American medical license revoked, tells Ron that the AZT is “poisonous” and “kills every cell it comes into contact with”. He instead prescribes him ddC and the protein peptide T, which are not approved in the US. Three months later, Ron finds his health much improved. It occurs to him that he could make money by importing the drugs and selling them to other HIV-positive patients. Since the drugs are not illegal, he is able to get them over the border by masquerading as a priest and swearing that they are for personal use. Meanwhile, Dr. Saks also begins to notice the negative effects of AZT, but is told by her supervisor Dr. Sevard that it cannot be discontinued.

Ron begins selling the drugs on the street. He comes back into contact with Rayon, with whom he reluctantly sets up business since she can bring many more clients. The pair establish the “Dallas Buyers Club”, charging $400 per month for membership, and it becomes extremely popular. Ron gradually begins to respect Rayon and think of her as a friend. When Ron has a heart attack, Sevard learns of the club and the alternative medication. He is angry that it is interrupting his trial, while Richard Barkley of the FDA confiscates the ddC and threatens to have Ron arrested. Saks agrees that there are benefits to Buyers Clubs (of which there are several around the country) but feels powerless to change anything. She and Ron strike up a friendship.

Barkley gets a police permit to raid the Buyers Club, but can do nothing but give Ron a fine. The FDA changes its regulations such that any unapproved drug is also illegal. As the Club runs out of funds, Rayon—who is addicted to cocaine—begs her father for money and tells Ron that she has sold her life insurance policy to raise money. Ron is thus able to travel to Mexico and get more of the Peptide T. When he returns, Ron finds that Rayon has died after being taken to hospital and given AZT. Saks is also upset by Rayon’s death, and she is asked to resign when the hospital discovers that she is linking her patients with the Buyers Club. She refuses to comply and insists that she would have to be fired.

As time passes, Ron shows compassion towards gay, lesbian, and transgender members of the club and making money becomes less of a concern – his priority is provision of the drugs. Peptide T gets increasingly difficult to acquire, and in 1987 he files a lawsuit against the FDA. He seeks the legal right to take the protein, which has been confirmed as non-toxic but is still not approved. The judge is compassionate toward Ron, but lacks the legal tools to do anything. As the film ends, on-screen text reveals that the FDA later allowed Ron to take Peptide T for personal use and that he died of AIDS in 1992, seven years later than his doctors initially predicted.

REVIEW:

Every awards season, there is one or more films that comes out of nowhere and “steals” awards from so-called more worthy films, even though it is clearly worthy of all its accolades. One of those films this year was Dallas Buyers Club, a film that covered some heavy and controversial topics, but wasn’t overly preachy.

What is this about?

Loosely based on true events, this drama follows Ron Woodroof, who refuses to accept he’ll die in 30 days when he’s diagnosed with AIDS in 1986. He extends his life and eventually helps many other AIDS patients by smuggling medications from abroad.

What did I like?

Rocker to diva. What a role for Jared Leto this was. I know quite a few ladies that have called him”one of the most beautiful men on the planet” and that “he would make a gorgeous woman”. Well, now they get to see that actually happen, sort of. While Leto has long been an actor, some best know him as the frontman for his group, 30 Seconds to Mars. As we saw in Chapter 27, he isn’t afraid of transforming himself for a role. Playing a transgender prostitute who is suffering from AIDS and has a heart of gold was quite the departure for him, and he has been reaping the benefits from this great performance he gave. Oh, did I mention we went to the same high school (not at the same time, though).

Craft. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone had pigeonholed Matthew McConaughey into the surfer dude with not much on top. Most even thought that he wasn’t that great of an actor. Granted, he had a string of films that didn’t allow for him to flex his chops, but to say he is not a good actor is ludicrous. Has no one seen A Time to Kill, Amistad, or any of his other serious roles? Take that talent and then throw in the commitment to playing a man diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, which causes one to waste away (unless you’re Magic Johnson who is still alive after being diagnosed way back in the early 90s, somehow). The normally ripped McConaughey is nearly unrecognizable. While I, and many others, praise his commitment to the role, I question the toll this massive weight loss will have on his health.

Focus. Obviously, this is a film that was meant to impress the critics. It has a laser-like, serious focus that doesn’t stray off, save for the slight joke or humorous situation caused by Jared Leto’s character (thank goodness). Keeping on target is what lets this film really shine, as this subject matter is not something to be taken lightly, and the situation regarding the medicine is not something that is well-known to most people.

What didn’t I like?

Um…. Slow moving dramas are not my cup of tea. I have a hard time stay awake and interested in them. So, it should come as no surprise that I wasn’t really invested in this film that way that some people, who have been gushing over this have been. It just didn’t capture me. Granted, I just saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in IMAX a couple of hours ago, so the drastic shift in tone and whatnot between the two films may have something to do with that, but still, could we not have made this a bit more interesting, rather than exposition, brief glimpse of gay sex, attempt at humor, drama, repeat?

Concern. I was moved by the concern Matthew McConaughey’s character showed for Jared Leto’s character. While there are times he’s pushing him around like a villain’s sidekick, there are moments when he sticks up for him. The most notable of these is in the supermarket. One of McConaughey’s former co-workers happens across them and starts saying some homophobic statements directed toward Leto, and McConaughey steps in to defend “her” honor. Following Leto’s death, he shows great remorse, allowing the audience to see that he really did care for his friend.

Location. I’m a native Texan (born in Fort Worth) living in Louisiana (Baton Rouge). Apparently, this film is similar. It is set in Dallas and filmed in New Orleans. I realize that the governor of Texas is an asshole who revoked the tax breaks for film companies, causing it to cost more to film there, but it just seems that a film that has Dallas in the title should be filmed in Dallas, rather than in someplace that looks nothing like Big D. Then again, The Dukes of Hazzard was filmed at LSU when it was supposed to be the University of Georgia.

Again, I have to say that Dallas Buyers Club just isn’t my cup of tea because of its heavy, serious drama. However, I am not one to not ignore a good film because of my distaste for its tone. This is a really good film and I highly recommend it. I believe this is one of those films you should see at least once…more for those that are into these type of films. Check it out sometime!

4 out of 5 stars

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