Released late 2013 and winner of three Academy Awards Jean-Marc Vallee’s critically acclaimed Dallas Buyers Club is a biopic of sorts, charting the real-life story of Ron Woodroof (portrayed wonderfully by Matthew McConaughey) wh0, when diagnosed with AIDS, takes treatment for not only him but other sufferers into his own hands. The film, at 116 minutes, is tough at times – prepare for real emotion and some mixed feelings when it comes to Woodroof. This is such an important story to tell and despite potential difficulties is essential viewing. Lifting the lid on AIDS Vallee takes the stance of a non-judgmental director, its up to you how you feel about Woodroof and his controversial lifestyle, but one thing is for certain – you care, and you feel sympathy for what people with this illness had to go through before helpful treatments became accessible (a light is also shined on the prejudice they unjustly received).
Set in 1985 when these real-life events took place we are positioned with Ron, a man who leads a lifestyle of hard drug use, gambling and precarious sexual endeavors. Having suffered from several blackouts and then an accident at work Woodroof is told he has AIDS and is given thirty days to get his affairs in order before his illness will kill him. Refusing to accept this horrible diagnoses he takes part in a drug test for AZT (which at that time was one of the only drugs approved to treat AIDS in America). Shortly after Woodroof meets various other sufferers including the charismatic and rather beautiful Rayon, a transgender male. Rayon, played by Jared Leto (unbelievably good in this role) is a juxtaposition to Woodroof, and is due credit to the change in Ron’s attitude to life, and a change in his morals which is highlighted throughout the course of the film. The majority of Buyers Club focuses on Ron’s illegal drug trade (he smuggles in ddc and peptide T, both of which improved his health) which helped to prolong the lives of many AIDS patients as well as his own (Ron lived for seven years after his diagnosis was originally given to him). Interestingly, it is the medical system in America that seems to be under attack rather than Woodroof’s initial lifestyle choices.
The most intriguing element to this riveting true story is the relationship between Ron and Rayon. Leto plays the latter with a sterling heart and love for life; unafraid to be different. Leto’s performance lends to some heartrending moments, and one of the best performances (if not THE best of 2013) which deservedly led to him winning Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars. McConaughey’s onscreen chemistry with Leto is wonderful at times, these two are a pair that couldn’t be further apart but during the course of the film they help each other in an array of ways which leads to a strong friendship. Rayon in particular changes Woodroof’s opinions on homosexuality for the better which is best exemplified in a scene in a supermarket; A man Ron knows verbally insults Rayon which leads to a fight because of Woodroofs refusal to accept what he has just heard. It is at this moment that you know there is a heart somewhere in Ron, but perhaps he has just been too afraid to show it.
McConaughey is a treasure as the protagonist of the film in a physically and emotionally demanding role (he lost three stone in weight to portray Ron at his most frail), never overplaying as someone who has a tremendous change of perspective (going from a man who is not particularly likeable to someone who cares for others more then he does himself). He also plays Ron with a charismatic charm about him – even in his darkest moments he still cracks a smart comment or some kind of joke. McConaughey and Vallee are never judging Woodroof, who certainly behaved in ways which could be looked down upon, its up to those watching what viewpoint they end on. Supporting the two main actors is Jennifer Garner, an actress who is often overshadowed or perhaps forgotten for the roles she plays but steals the scenes she is in because of her fragility and kindness. Those two things are adopted as she embodies Dr. Eve Saks, a woman who refused to quietly ignore the wrongdoings of the American medical system at that time.
The whole film is full of tender moments which are often challenged by ones of the harsh reality of what these people were dealing with. Humanity and friendship are of great significance in Dallas Buyers Club and the relationships played out are touching to watch and heartbreaking to see end. A particular scene in a restaurant between McConaughey and Garner shines with personality and aura and it feels as though you could be placed there with them. Another wonderful trait to the piece is its non-intrusive stance; for a film focused on people dealing with a terminal illness scenes relating to this never feel overwrought or uncomfortably gruesome but Vallee is still able to make you aware of the limited time Rayon, Ron and their friends were left with.
Intelligent, wickedly humorous at times and just damn brilliant Dallas Buyers Club is a stellar example of cinema at its best and most powerful.