Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is a game-changer for McConaughey, AIDS fight, Oscar race


Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof in Jean-Marc Vallee's fact-based drama, ’Dallas Buyers Club.’


Moments after being informed he has AIDS and only 30 days to live, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is cursing at hospital doctors and screaming that he is not a homosexual.

Months later he’s risking jail time by selling cocktails of non-FDA-approved AIDS medications from other countries to the mostly gay members of what he calls the Dallas Buyers Club.

Woodroof is a complicated and desperate man.

Dallas Buyers Club

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.

Written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack.

A Focus Features release, playing at Cinemark Levis Commons.

Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use.

Running time: 117.

Critic’s Rating ★★★★½

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto

★★★★★ Outstanding; ★★★★ Very Good;

★★★ Good; ★★ Fair;★ Poor

Woodroof, who died in 1992 in his early 40s, was a skinny but ferocious Texas redneck who equated his masculinity to the number of women he bedded. He was an electrician, drug dealer, part-time rodeo bull rider, gambling cheat, and a homophobe and racist. These are hardly the requisites to being a hero to the gay community in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the United States.

His transformation begins shortly after his diagnosis when he goes to a Dallas library to research the causes of HIV infection. Woodroof learns unprotected straight sex can also pass the virus to partners, information that proves critical in changing who he is and how he thinks.

Not willing to easily surrender his young life to the disease, Woodroof attempts to buy his way into a hospital test program for a new HIV drug, AZT, believed to slow the progression of AIDS. He meets Rayon (Jared Leto), a transvestite also suffering from AIDS. They clash, but in time they become business partners and friends.

Like Woodroof, Rayon is complicated.

The shunned son of a wealthy Dallas family that cannot accept his homosexuality, Rayon is sweet, compassionate, and often high. Even as Woodroof cleans up his life, Rayon continues to make a mess of his.

Woodroof earns our acceptance and admiration through his stubborn persistence, pain, and stupidity. He is an intricate character and there aren't enough superlatives to place in front of McConaughey's astonishing performance (and appearance, having lost 30-plus pounds for the role) in bringing his life to the screen.

It's McConaughey's finest moment and, along with his starring role as the mysterious outlaw named Mud from the film of the same name, the second great performance by the actor this year. Add to this small list his acclaimed turns in last year's Magic Mike and Killer Joe, and McConaughey has proved himself as no longer just a handsome Hollywood leading man but one of its premier acting talents.

Leto (2000's Requiem for a Dream) is equally superb as a troubled soul desperate to be accepted, but unable to love himself. Like McConaughey's Woodroof, Leto's Rayon is also a transformative role. It's a performance beyond wigs, makeup, and dresses, and about the way the actor carries the character with dignity, charm, and when needed, sass.

Expect both actors to factor heavily in this year's Oscar race.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club mirrors last year's Argo as another based-on-true-events, crowd-pleasing drama with a brain and heart. It's smart, funny, touching, and purposeful, with the obligatory dramatic license but necessary.

There's a David vs. Goliath angle to this story as well.

In the mid-1980s, the makers of AZT paid hospitals for clinical trials of the drug, with AIDS patients as guinea pigs.

The early results of the treatments suggested that the drug, at least taken in the large doses being administered, exacerbates the painful effects of the disease and hastens a patient's death.

Woodroof learns more about the downside of AZT through an American doctor now practicing across the Mexico border who restores his quality of living and extends his life through a combination of vitamins and other medications. Most of these medications aren't available in the United States and Woodroof wants to share this medicinal cocktail with other AIDS patients, but the FDA won't allow it. So he smuggles the boxed-up drugs across the border in a car and from airports around the world.

To the members of the Dallas Buyers Club, Woodroof is a hero. To the hospital and the FDA he is a nuisance and potentially dangerous. And to his former friends who still consider AIDS a "queer disease," he is a pariah.

One dependable friend proves to be his hospital doctor, Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), who sides with him in his eventual court fight with the FDA for the right to provide life-prolonging AIDS drugs to those who want it. Saks represents the doctors and hospitals that refuse to put their own financial needs and those of Big Pharmaceutical ahead of their patients, and Garner effectively provides the necessary emotional bullet points for the script.

But the essence of the film is Woodroof and Rayon. Their unlikely friendship is the heart of Dallas Buyers Club, an AIDS drama about tolerance and the ability for even the worst of us to improve our lives and those around us.


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