Fueled By An Amazing Cast, 'Dallas Buyers Club' Is The Story Of An Unlikely Hero

By James Jay Edwards
Released: November 1, 2013
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Matthew McConaughey stars in Dallas Buyers Club as real-life Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof, whose free-wheeling life was overturned in 1985 when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live. These were the early days of the AIDS epidemic, and the U.S. was divided over how to combat the virus. Ron, now shunned and ostracized by many of his old friends, and bereft of government-approved effective medicines, decided to take matters in his own hands, tracking down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. Bypassing the establishment, the entrepreneurial Woodroof joined forces with an unlikely band of renegades and outcasts - who he once would have shunned - and established a hugely successful "buyers club." Their shared struggle for dignity and acceptance is a uniquely American story of the transformative power of resilience.

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Film Review
Set in the mid-eighties during the heyday of the AIDS crisis, Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe) as Ron Woodroof, a rough-and-tumble Texas electrician/amateur rodeo cowboy who, thanks to his sexual promiscuity, finds himself coming up HIV positive. By the time he is diagnosed, he is on the verge of full-blown AIDS and given 30 days to live. He hears about the experimental drug AZT and asks his doctor, Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner from Butter), if he can participate. He is told that he does not qualify for the study, so he finds a connection within the hospital to steal the drug and sell it to him. The AZT makes him even sicker, so he does a little research and hooks up with a Mexican connection that supplies him with an alternative treatment which consists of a combination of non-FDA approved supplements and proteins. His new treatment regime works wonders for him and he seems to make a miraculous recovery. With the help of a fellow AIDS patient, a cross-dressing homosexual named Rayon (Requiem for a Dream's Jared Leto), he smuggles his treatment ingredients into America and distributes them to other needy patients, using the loophole that he is selling "subscriptions," and giving the drugs away to his subscribers. The new business, which they call the Dallas Buyers Club, attracts the attention of the FDA, the DEA, and the major pharmaceutical companies, all of which want to shut it down, while Ron and Rayon just want to provide an effective treatment to their patients.

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer's Club. 2013 Focus Features.

Like a good chunk of the movies that are coming out of Hollywood these days, Dallas Buyers Club is based on real events. The screenplay, written by Melisa Wallack (Mirror Mirror) and Craig Borten (The 33), seems to follow the real Ron Woodroof's story of smuggling and selling black market AIDS medications pretty closely, with some dramatic flair thrown in. Director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria) takes a very gritty, unflinching approach to the story. There is more than a touch of cinematic flair in the film, thanks to the creative cinematography of Yves Belanger (Laurence Anyways) and some skillful montage editing by Vallee, but at the heart of the film is the struggle of the main character. The journey of Ron Woodroof through the stages of grief is what drives the film and, as unlikeable as he is in the beginning, the audience ends up rooting for him once he finds his calling. Dallas Buyers Club is an emotional film, but not in a sappy way. It's a warts-and-all kind of movie, like Trainspotting or Boogie Nights; the hipster's version of Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia.

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer's Club. 2013 Focus Features.

Dallas Buyers Club is a lot of different movies in one. With the amount of time that the characters spend in hospitals, it's a medical drama. Given Ron's illegal activities, it's a crime drama. Ron's head-on battle with the corporate powers-that-be turns it into an underdog legal thriller. The relationship between Ron and Rayon makes it an unlikely buddy film. There's even a hint of doomed romantic intrigue in the friendship between Ron and Dr. Eve. The different angles and interpretations do not mean that the film lacks focus; on the contrary, Jean-Marc Vallee knows exactly what he wants to say, and he says it perfectly. Dallas Buyers Club is just able to communicate its point on many different levels.
Matthew McConaughey's performance in Dallas Buyers Club is uncanny. The actor put himself through a Christian Bale-like (The Machinist) body transformation for the role of Ron Woodroof, losing weight until he appears to be skin and bones; this does not look like the same McConaughey over which audiences fawned in Magic Mike. However, it's more than a gaunt face, silly haircut, and Village People-esque mustache that makes McConaughey's performance so memorable. He absolutely nails the part of a he-man macho stud who suddenly finds himself infected with a "homosexual" disease. McConaughey works the arc of the character to perfection, going from pompous, arrogant jerk to sensitive, honest hero, and he does it all believably.

Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyer's Club. 2013 Focus Features.

Then there is Jared Leto. The role of Rayon is an important one in the film, and Leto throws himself completely into it. It's a risky role, and Leto shows guts in taking it, but he also proves that he has the talent and commitment to pull it off. Like McConaughey, Leto undergoes a chameleon-like transformation, and not just in the costuming and makeup department. Rayon is the perfect effeminate foil to Ron's testosterone-fueled dude, and Leto plays it amazingly well. He and McConaughey are two extremes who share a common bond, and they both light up the screen in Dallas Buyers Club.

Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer's Club. 2013 Focus Features.

Sound designer Anton Fischlin (Nitro) has this neat trick that he does at certain points in Dallas Buyers Club. Whenever Ron is having a medical spell or a seizure, the audio will mute except for a high-pitched ringing sound, putting the audience into the character's head. Combined with the dizzying visuals and Matthew McConaughey's convincing performance, empathy for Ron is generated with the viewer through the representation of his suffering. Wisely, the rest of the sound in Dallas Buyers Club leans towards the realistic, making these instances really stand out. By the end, the technique is a bit overused and predictable, but effective nonetheless, providing the audience with a vicarious experience throughout Dallas Buyers Club.

Release Date
November 1, 2013
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