Film Review – Dallas Buyers Club (Second Take)
Dallas Buyers Club (Second Take)
Dallas Buyers Club benefited publicity-wise from pre-filming photos of Matthew McConaughey wasting away as he lost weight to play Ron Woodruff, the main character. Basically, everyone knows by this point that this is that film where McConaughey is skinny. Why did he lose the weight? He plays a man struggling with HIV, getting treatment, and dealing with the stigma attached to the disease.
Ron Woodruff is a hustler, gambler, bull rider, and electrician, and he takes all the drugs, alcohol, and women he can get. After becoming increasingly sick, it takes a powerful electrical shock that sends him to the hospital to get the diagnosis of HIV. Considering this film starts out in 1985, there is a stigma that this is only a homosexual disease. Ron is not gay-friendly and is not pleased to have a disease that is associated with them. He is given thirty days to live. Determined not to die, he does his research and discovers the potential treatments, but hardly any are available unless you are in a drug trial. After ending up in Mexico and meeting a former U.S. doctor (Griffin Dune), he becomes well-educated in the ins and outs of AIDS drugs. Smuggling some of the drug treatments back to Dallas, Ron starts the Dallas Buyers Club, hoping to cash in on the clamor for treatment and, secondarily, help other patients out.
Even though this film is based on a true story, it does not gloss over who Ron Woodruff really was in reality. He is not a lovable man; he’s extremely homophobic and just not a guy you would want your kids hanging around. It is only through his Dallas Buyers Club that he starts to accept others and begins to change his views and ways. He is far from perfect, and he film does not attempt to glorify who he was, which is appreciated. He did make headway with the fight against the FDA for bringing possible treatments to AIDS/HIV patients faster. Outside of the Dallas Buyers Club, that is probably his legacy.
While everyone is talking about Matthew McConaughey and his weight loss and performance, his is certainly not the stand-out performance in the film. That belongs to Jared Leto and his portrayal of the transgender woman Rayon. Leto also lost a lot of weight to play the role of Rayon, and he was already a skinny man. Leto fell completely into the role, and apparently went completely method, as well. He doesn’t do much acting anymore, but this role spoke to him, I guess (and damn if Leto is not an attractive woman on top of everything). He provides some of the most emotional moments in the film. Rayon has flaws, but her kindness and attitude are great to watch. The most poignant moment comes when Rayon goes back to Raymond to meet his father. Through Rayon, Ron is able to become more kind and accepting of others. Leto should receive some serious award recognition.
The other actors involved in the film, such as Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn, Kevin Rankin, Denis O’Hare, and Dallas Roberts, play less important roles, but are part of Ron Woodruff’s journey. Garner plays a kind doctor, Dr. Eve Saks, who is rallied to the cause because of the ridiculous drug restrictions for her patient. She is also a high school friend of Rayon. While important to the film, she did not stand out compared to Leto’s and McConaughey’s performances.
Dallas Buyers Club takes us on one man’s journey through HIV/AIDS and all of the early restrictions on patients to get access to different types of medications that may have helped them. While Ron Woodruff is certainly not a role model, he did what he had to do to survive and turned it into something that also benefited others suffering. There is nothing quite like giving the middle finger to your doctors for outliving a death sentence, and Ron gives the finger many times. As an aside, I would like to suggest also watching the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague. It is a great follow-up to this film and provides more background on what treatments were available to HIV/AIDS patients, the frustration with the FDA and drug companies, and why buyers clubs were important to those trying to survive.