Dallas Buyers Club (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4) : A small fight against AIDS

dallasbuyersclub01 Sometimes people are changed through sudden incidents in their lives, and the life of Ron Woodroof, the real-life hero of “Dallas Buyers Club”, was particularly dramatic. After finding that he became an AIDS patient, his life was turned upside down as a result while losing all his friends, and he was told that he had only one month to live even at the best condition. But he never gave up, and he lived far longer than expected, while becoming a small hero for the people he had ignorantly despised because of his prejudice.

It was 1985, and that was the time when the American society became more aware of the AIDS epidemic being spread around the nation. As narrow-minded as his close friends, Woodroof(Matthew McConaughey) believes only ‘faggots’ like Rock Hudson get the disease, and he never imagines that his rough cowboy lifestyle filled with sex and drug can make him infected with HIV virus. The familiar symptoms are shown here and there in his physical appearance, but he keeps going, and, when he is finally diagnosed at the hospital after an accident at his workplace, the doctors are rather amazed that he has somehow managed to live despite a very low level of immune cells.

He cannot believe the diagnosis at first, but it becomes more apparent to him as his sickness gets worse and he learns more about AIDS. Like any people dying from AIDS at that time, he wants to live longer, but the chance is too low. While there is an antiviral drug named AZT, the drug is still going through the clinical trial stage before approved by FDA, and, though it was one of the first effective drugs against HIV virus, it turns out to be too toxic in some cases.

Searching for any possible alternatives for treating his disease, Woodroof goes down to Mexico, and, while spending some time under the care of an expatriate American doctor working at a shabby hospital, he gets a good business idea after he comes to learn that there are several drugs outside US reported to be effective treatment against AIDS. These drugs can help many desperate people who may not even get the chance of participating in the ongoing AZT clinical trials, but they are not allowed yet to be imported into US for selling just because they are not approved by FDA.

dallasbuyersclub02Therefore, Woodroff smuggles drugs and other helpful supplement pills over the Mexico-US border while claiming to authorities that they are only for his personal use. His business on the streets does not go well at first, but, after forming the practical partnership with a transgender AIDS patient Rayon(Jared Leto), he sets Dallas Buyers Club, and the number of the club members, who monthly pay him $400 as membership fee while periodically getting smuggled drugs from him, is quickly increased thank to the words spread around the local AIDS patients.

Of course, his contraband activity is illegal in the view of local authorities, and, while Woodroof are trying to fend off the oppressions from FDA, hospital doctors, and the pharmaceutical company which developed AZT, we get the glimpses of the era which was quite a gloomy time for many people in US. As shown in the recent Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague”(2012), the US government was ineffectual in dealing with the AIDS epidemic even while the number of AIDS patients was increased day by day at that time, and many people like Woodroof had to fight for their chance to live even though they knew well that their days were numbered.

While not giving many insights on that hard time compared to that moving documentary, “Dallas Buyers Club” works as a character drama in its relatively smaller focus. With his plain, naturalistic approach to the story, the director Jean-Marc Vallée prevents the movie from becoming one of those sappy ‘disease-of-the-week’ movie, and the screenplay by Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten provides nice moments of character interaction along the story although it feels occasionally choppy at times.

dallasbuyersclub045 And the movie is anchored by Matthew McConaughey’s compelling performance. After playing the title role he was literally born to play in “The Lincoln Lawyer”(2011), McConaughey has continued to entertain or amuse us in a number of films including “Bernie”(2011), “Killer Joe”(2011), “Magic Mike”(2012), “The Paperboy”(2012), “Mud”(2012), and “The Wolf of Wall Street”(2013), and now he gave another terrific performance here in this film. While his striking physical transformation for the role is the first thing to draw our attention(he lost 23 kg(50 pounds) for playing Woodroof), McConaughey is also convincing in depicting his character’s gradual inner transformation in the story. It may be just a small way of survival to him at first, but, while overcoming his prejudice against Rayon and other LGBT people, Woodroof eventually goes all around the world for helping his fellow AIDS patients, and there is something touching about the efforts of this indomitable guy determined to do anything for him and others before his death.

The supporting characters are less-defined in comparison, but the movie has good actors to bring life into them. Jared Leto, who lost 14 kg(30 pounds) for his role, injects grace and humanity to his functional stereotype character, and his scenes with McConaughey are powerful enough for their possible Oscar nominations in the next week. As a young doctor sympathetic to the plights of Woodroof and other AIDS patients, Jennifer Garner has not many things to do, but her scenes with McConaughey feel warm and intimate even though their cordial relationship is remained mostly underdeveloped in the movie.

While it is not one of the best films reflecting the struggles with AIDS during the 1980s, “Dallas Buyers Club” is a solid drama supported by two very good performances to be remembered. I think the movie could have delved more deeply into its story and details considering its interesting subject deserved to be told more, but it is still a good story of a man who rose to the occasion under his extraordinary situation, and it is certainly great to see Matthew McConaughey proving again that he is one of the most interesting actors working in Hollywood.

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