Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey has been winning lots of awards for his portrayal of a straight, homophobic man stricken with the AIDS virus in the new film, Dallas Buyers Club.

He is also the favorite to win the Oscar. See this film, not just for his performance, but also for the story of his character's determination to live after a death diagnosis.

McConaughey plays Ron Woodruff, a macho womanizing cowboy and electrician in 1985 Texas. In March of that year, after an electrical accident sends him to the hospital, he is told by the doctors he is HIV positive. Even worse, he is told that he has just 30 days left to live and that he should get his affairs in order. Woodruff doesn't believe the doctor (Dennis O'Hare) because his is not gay, and he believes that only gay people get the virus.

Woodruff refuses to accept this diagnosis until he reads more about it at the local library. He discovers that it is not just gay men who are getting the virus, but IV drug users as well (like himself). Upon reading this, he now knows he's in trouble. Unfortunately, his circle of macho male friends and co-workers find out, and he gets shunned and ostracized by them.

Back at the hospital, Woodruff is told by one of the doctors, Dr. Eve Sacks (Jennifer Garner), that the only drug available is a drug called AZT. She also explains to Woodruff that it is only available in a drug trial, and that half of the participants will receive the drug, and the other half will receive a placebo. Woodruff, who continues taking illegal drugs and appears to be losing more and more weight, does not accept this, and finds a way to get the real drug (he eventually gets it, illegally, from a hospital cleaner who steals it from the drug cabinets at the hospital). He seems to be getting sicker and sicker, even though he is taking the drug, and one day he collapses and ends up back in the hospital.

He gets put in the same room as Rayon (Jared Leto), a mid 20-something drag queen who is in the hospital for the same reason as Woodruff. Rayon, who is an old friend of Dr. Sacks, even asking her about his choice of outfit, is a warm and gentle soul. At first Woodruff wants nothing to do with Rayon, he is anti-gay and doesn't want to be put in the same category as 'people like him'. But he slowly warms up to Rayon, who has a very simple and charming disposition, and a warm touch which he uses to help Woodruff with a cramp in his leg. The hospital still won't give Woodruff AZT (or any other drugs), and he soon discovers that AZT is making people sicker, even at its sticker price of $10,000 for a years supply, with people still dying daily. So Ron decides to take his health into his own hands.

Woodruff turns to the black market and finds out about a clinic just over the border in Mexico, where he meets expatriate physician Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne). Vass treats him with drugs that are not approved by America's FDA (Federal Drug Administration). In the clinic there are very young men, all with AIDS, in bed or who can barely walk, some close to death, all clinging to hope that being in this clinic will save them. (It is hard to believe that this was a time when this was reality.) Woodruff finds renewed health and hope at the clinic, and he also sees that he could start a business by smuggling the medication into the U.S. to sell to fellow AIDS patients. So that is what he does, and his operation becomes the Dallas Buyers Club.

Ron enlists Rayon to solicit from her gay community the men who are sick and have no other alternative, and soon enough, Ron and Rayon have customers lining up at the buyers' club, located in a hotel. Then it becomes them against the world: the cowboy and the queen. And Dr. Saks eventually goes against the grain of what she has been taught in school and gets on the side of Ron and Rayon. Unfortunately, his business brings the unwanted attention from the FDA, as he is selling drugs that are not permitted to be sold in the U.S. But this does not stop Ron, who becomes a walking encyclopedia of anti-viral meds, pharmaceutical trials and patents. He re-stock supplies that are confiscated, and travels to other countries, including Japan, to get alternative drugs.

Ron was crusader, a man who gave hope to many who didn't have any. He organised and led an operation whose customer base was 99% homosexuals, and Texas in the 1980s was undoubtedly one of the worst places to be homosexual or transexual, much less one with AIDS. Woodruff eventually succumbed to complications from AIDS in September 1992, 2,557 days after his diagnosis.

What makes this movie stand out from all other films that have dealt with gay men and AIDS is the performance of McConaughey. His performance is far better than Tom Hanks' performance in the 1993 film, Philadelphia. And whilst Hanks was given lots of makeup to look sick, McConaughey went through an amazing physical transformation to play the frail, emaciated and dying man. It is McConaughey's best performance in his career, and the best of the year. McConaughey shed nearly 50 pounds to play Woodruff, dropping to a weight of 140 pounds. And in one pivotal hospital scene, McConaughey dropped to 135 pounds in order to play the frail, emaciated dying Woodruff. McConaughey also did a lot of research for playing the role, including reading Woodruff's journals. Viewers of this film will forget they are watching the good-looking and very sexy actor Matthew McConaughey, and will just see Ron Woodruff on the screen.

Like McConaughey, Leto also went through a physical transformation to play Rayon. By the time filming began, Leto got down to dangerous 116 pounds. And Leto plays Rayon with charm, emotion, a touch of femininity, honesty, and vulnerability. He completely nails the character.

Dallas Buyers Club feels like it is a documentary, with a countdown on screen showing how many days it has been since Ron's diagnosis. And we see him surviving much longer than the 30 days his doctor originally gave him. This is an important movie that excellently captures the era when AIDS was considered a death sentence, the feel, the clothing, the hostility, the fear, the desperation and the feel and smell of death. And McConaughey and Leto deserve every award they have gotten and are going to get.

In 1992, screenwriter Craig Borten asked Ron Woodruff how he would feel about his story becoming a movie one day. Borten says, “Ron said, ‘Man, I’d really like to have a film. I’d like people to have this information and I’d like people to be educated on what I had to learn by the seat of my pants about government, pharmaceutical agencies, AIDS. I’d like to think it all meant something in the end.’”

It did.