Movie review: “Dallas Buyers Club” finds hope in plague

By Columbus Alive
From the November 14, 2013 edition

You won’t see a more crowd-pleasing, life-affirming movie about a deadly plague than “Dallas Buyers Club.”

The drama, set in the height of the AIDS crisis, boasts not one but two performances you’ll probably be hearing a lot about come awards season — and from some names you might not expect.

Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) is a stereotypical Texas redneck in 1985 Dallas. He smokes, drinks, uses drugs, has lots of casual sex and is vocally homophobic. His life is beers, steers and hating queers. He’s not a good guy.

When a work injury lands Ron in the hospital, tests reveal he’s HIV-positive. Incredulous and in denial that he could have a disease that he thinks is just for “faggots,” Ron first lashes out destructively before the desperation of having 30 days to live sets in.

His research leads him to seek out the experimental drug AZT and eventually to an exiled American doctor in Mexico who has devised a cocktail of non-FDA-approved drugs and vitamins that effectively reduces Ron’s symptoms.

Ron soon goes into black market selling these drugs to fellow AIDS patients, with the help of an unlikely business partner and eventual friend, a pre-op transgender woman named Rayon (Jared Leto).

Director Jean-Marc Vallée works from the outstanding script Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack adapted from the true story of Woodruff. “Buyers Club” is alternately heart-wrenching and, more surprisingly, quite funny.

If you’ve been paying attention, McConaughey has quietly turned from prettyboy into outstanding actor, but this film is his finest yet, in part because of the complexity of Woodruff.

Ron’s eventual transformation comes first out of self-preservation. This isn’t “Schindler’s List,” even if his actions are helping desperate and dying people. McConaughey embodies all facets of Ron’s anger, denial and eventual redemption.

For Leto (of “My So-Called Life” Jordan Catalano and 30 Seconds to Mars fame), his sweetly tragic Rayon gives the film its heart.

The film explores many facets of AIDS in the Reagan era, from the stigmatization of its victims to the money-driven bureaucracy of the FDA in a time when people were dying so rapidly.

For a broader exploration, check out great documentaries “How to Survive a Plague” and “We Were Here.” For a moving, crowd-pleasing film, check out “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Photo courtesy of Focus Features