CAPSULE: Matthew McConaughey dropped a lot of weight as well as his romantic image to play Ron Woodroof. Woodroof was big into cocaine and sex and (in the film) rodeo until in 1985 he was diagnosed with AIDS. He was given one month to live. The FDA-approved treatment was worse than useless so Ron set up an international network to buy in mass anti-viral drugs unapproved by the FDA. With McConaughey's role in MUD followed by this role McConaughey clearly transforms himself from heartthrob to serious actor. Jean-Marc Vallee directs a screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
This year the Christian Bale Award for Starving for One's Art goes to Matthew McConaughey for DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. Officially, it was stated he lost 38 pounds, but there are a number of sources saying it was closer to 50. McConaughey was shedding more than pounds. He was also shedding his romantic comedy good looks in an effort to be taken more seriously as an actor. And there is some chance that he may net some acting awards for in one year making MUD and DALLAS BUYERS CLUB. Both are films in which he was not likely to be considered anybody's dreamboat. But he might be considered Best Actor.
Back in the 1980s when AIDS was a new horror, a modern-day plague, Ron Woodroof (played by Matthew McConaughey) is a heavy drinker, a cocaine user, a homophobe, and is heavily into sex. (In the film he is also a rodeo rider, though the real Ron Woodroof on whom the film is based was not.) Diagnosed with full-blown AIDS he is hospitalized. There his roommate is Rayon (Jered Leto), just about what Ron hates most, a gay transvestite seeking sex reassignment and dying of AIDS. His doctor is Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) who will become involved in his case and his life.
Woodroof very nearly dies on the drug azidothymidine (AZT). He staggers through denial, anger, and bargaining before with waning strength he goes to Mexico where a one-time doctor who had lost his license treats him with drugs that were not approved in the US and finds they are much better for him than the hospital therapy back home.
It is not long before he is bringing large quantities of these medications into the US and re-selling them. To get around the United States law that says he cannot sell these medications, he forms a "buyers club" in which the drugs are provided free to members who pay a $400/month membership fee. He is soon travelling all over the world to find suppliers of anti-viral drugs and becomes one corner of a three-way fight among the hospital, the FDA, and Woodroof. After a while Woodroof's legal machinations may not sustain the same viewer interest, but the relationship between Ron and Rayon--the homophobe and the gay transvestite--grows in interest value.
Beyond the fact that there was a Ron Woodroof who founded a drug buyers club to improve the treatment AIDS, I am not sure how much of this film I really believe. And Woodroof himself, I am told, had no connection to the rodeo. But the viewer will come away with a better feel for the issues of AIDS therapy. The film could have used more discussion of the issues of how thoroughly a drug has to be tested before being given to people who might die without it. That is not an easy question. The FDA's policy is criticized, but there is little suggestion what the appropriate policy would be.
McConaughey's is a performance that will be remembered. It is hard to believe that after a year in which McConaughey starred in both this film and in MUD that his name will not appear on the Best Actor ballot and deservedly so. On the other hand Jennifer Garner could and certainly should have done more to raise her character above a walking cliché in a white lab coat. Writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack might well have consigned Jered Leto's role to the same fate, but Leto does more for his gay transvestite than the writers do.
I rate DALLAS BUYERS CLUB a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0790636/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dallas_buyers_club_2013/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper