Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013)

Dallas Buyer’s Club

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (U.S., 2013)

I want to start by saying that Dallas Buyer’s Club wasn’t about what I expected it to be about.  I hadn’t seen many previews for it, and the first fifteen minutes or so make it seem like it was going to be a “modern western” like No Country for Old Men (2007).  That is of course until our bullriding, roughneck protagonist, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is diagnosed with AIDS.  In 1985.  And given thirty days to live.

Now that medical advances have made HIV a chronic condition in the United States (and increasingly in the developing world thanks to international relief efforts), it is easy to forget the thankfully brief moment in history when HIV/AIDS was largely a misunderstood, terrifying affliction that seemed to mostly affect homosexual men.  When the homophobic Woodroof is diagnosed with the disease, he has no idea how it could have happened (it turns out that it was from unprotected sex with rodeo floozies). He is ostracized by his equally homophobic friends and coworkers who assume that he is a closeted homosexual.  Alone and desperate, he starts illegally buying untested drugs to treat his condition.

Eventually, Woodroof’s attempts to treat his disease lead him to a clinic in Mexico where he receives a promising treatment of vitamins and different drugs.  He and the proprietor of this clinic come up with a scheme to distribute the drugs in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the homophobic Woodroof is not well received by his potential customers.  This leads to an unlikely partnership with the transgendered Rayon (Jared Leto), whom Woodroof met during a previous stay at the hospital.  The movie then become part buddy movie, part little guy against “the man” movie as Woodroof and Rayon fight the FDA (who is trying to shut down their drug distribution operation).

As the above, extended synopsis points out, Dallas Buyer’s Club covers a lot of ground in a fairly short runtime (just under two hours).  The weight of that plot could easily have drowned the film in a sea of made for TV, Lifetime channel sludge, and indeed it slows the movie down at key moments.  Fortunately, the movie succeeds in telling its story largely through the strength of its performances.  McConaughey, Leto, and Jennifer Garner could, and should, all be up for Oscars this spring.

Overall Dallas Buyer’s Club uses strong acting performances to successfully tell a potentially unwieldy story about a troubling period in American history.

You might like Dallas Buyer’s Club if: You appreciate movies that succeed based on the strength of the acting within them.

You might not like Dallas Buyer’s Club if: You prefer movies with focused narrative structure.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe

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