Depicting the fight against AIDS in the mid-'80's offers a Texas actor a chance for an Oscar.
The Dallas Buyers’ Club
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria)
Screenplay: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack (Mirror Mirror)
Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Jennifer Garner (The Odd Life of Timothy Green)
Runtime: 117 min.
by John DeSando
The ongoing battle against AIDS had its roots in the paranoid ‘80’s, when none of us knew exactly what it was, how communicable it was, and how to treat it. The Dallas Buyers’ Club tells the absorbing story inspired by Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), an early H.I.V. positive sufferer, who, going to Mexico for alternative treatment and selling unapproved drugs in the US, exposes the flawed relationship among the FDA, Big Pharma, and patients.
The opening sequences, showing homophobic electrician and rodeo cowboy Woodroof’s libertine lifestyle slowing eroding under the not-yet diagnosed H.I.V. positive, are powerful and uncomfortable because of the impending doom and McConaughey’s superlative performance (look for an Oscar nomination). His putdown of Rock Hudson reminds us that bigotry can come back like a boomerang. His unprotected sex and drug use are convincing harbingers of his eventual decline, somewhat difficult to witness, but then Tom Hanks’ portrayal in Philadelphia was no easier to watch.
The distinguishing feature of The Dallas Buyers Club is McConaughey’s performance, which catches the trashy bravado of a redneck, who also is a shrewd businessman and a surprisingly humanistic con man. All this and McConaughey’s well-known weight loss (think Christian Bale) give him an advantage at Oscar time. I’m hoping for a nod to Jared Leto as well for his depiction of transsexual Rayon, not quite as brash as her business partner, Woodroof, yet more endearing with a biting wit that keeps Ron focused.
Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee and neophyte writer Craig Borten rarely take the drama into melodrama: Never did I pity Woodroof, nor did I see the plot points as contrived. The frequently witty dialogue keeps the sentimentality and didacticism to a minimum; the almost- documentary style with judicious use of the hand held camera assures a reality without sentimentality.
I cluelessly dismissed my friend John, who died of AIDS in the ‘80’s, when I knew nothing about the disease and kept him away from my family for fear of infection. Dallas Buyers Club helps me through recollection of my ignorance and into a new understanding of the suffering and incompetence accompanying a rogue disease. In 1986, many were blind to a virus that would ravage millions, few as brave as Ron Woodroof.
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com