When AIDS first hit hard in the late 80s and early 90s, it was a death sentence, and there was very little hope in the way of medications and anyone who contracted HIV was doomed to get full-blown AIDS, become an emaciated wreck of a person as their immune system shut down, and eventually die. Since then, huge advancements have been made in the treatment of HIV and people who contract it are able to live almost normal lives, as long as they take care of themselves. There have been several movies about the crisis from different points of view, the most well-known of which is Tom Hanks's Oscar-winning Philadelphia.
Dallas Buyers Club tells the true story of a good-ol-boy Texan rodeo rider named Ron Woodroof who was as hetero as they come, and contracted AIDS due to having unprotected sex with as many women as he could find. He first reacts with shock, as he doesn’t believe he could get the disease, but then he does his research and sets out to find the drugs that will help him survive.
The problem is that many of the drugs that will help are not yet approved by the FDA, and therefore not exactly legal. He then sets up a ‘buyers club’. For a $400 a month membership fee, he provides the meds many HIV and AIDS patients need, but are unable to get at the hospital. He develops contacts all over the world to help him import these items through various shady methods. It’s a really fascinating story that is exceptionally portrayed by the actors in this movie and well-crafted by director Jean-Marc Vallee (Café de Flore, The Young Victoria and C.R.A.Z.Y.).
- Much has been made of Matthew McConaughey’s terrifying weight loss to portray Woodroof. It is terrifying, and he is difficult to look at in this movie, but he does a great job playing this character who at first believes he has lost everything as he realizes how foolishly he has lived his life. The transformation between the person Woodroof is at the beginning of the movie and the person he becomes is amazing, and exceptionally well-acted by McConaughey. It’s probably the best work I have seen him do, ever. It did just earn him a Golden Globe.
- Jared Leto plays Woodroof’s assistant Rayon, a transvestite who helps the homophobic Woodroof become less narrow-minded while helping set up and run the buyers club. While much has been made of McConaughey’s physical transformation, he still is always Matthew McConaughey, just scary-skinny. However, Leto completely disappears into Rayon, and lost an incredible amount of weight as well. His performance is equally amazing to McConaughey’s as Rayon senses the end drawing near, and does as much as possible to help Woodroof, while still not quite committing to live as healthy as possible. This also just earned him a Golden Globe.
- Jennifer Garner plays Dr. Eve Saks, who attempts to treat both Woodroof and Rayon at the hospital, believing what the hospital is doing is right, until she starts to see the affects that the drug companies, and their money, have on the FDA, and as a result, on the hospital. Garner doesn’t stretch much, she stays well within her wheelhouse, but does a really good job making Dr. Saks believable and sympathetic. I keep hearing how she was noticeably the weakest actor in the bunch. Honestly, I don’t think she was that bad, I think everyone else was just really good. She did not just win a Golden Globe, but hey, just go back and watch a couple seasons of Alias.
- Steve Zahn plays Tucker, a local cop who is friends with Woodroof. It was interesting seeing them together again after they played Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino in Sahara – if you’ve read any of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt books, you were hoping that did better so there would be more of them. Zahn doesn’t have many scenes, but those that he does have are memorable.
- Denis O’Hare plays another doctor at the hospital – Dr. Sevard, who is much less sympathetic to the plight of his customers, and who becomes the focus of Woodroof’s anger. Whether he’s in the pocket of the drug companies, or simply following hospital policies, it’s hard to not see Russell Edginton every time he’s on screen (don’t trust him!).
This is a really well done movie that stays fact-focused and story based. It is probably too long; it drags a bit in the beginning. But it drags where Woodroof is dragging; where he is struggling to believe what has happened to him and is feeling lost. Once he makes a decision to take action, the movie picks up, so perhaps that was a deliberate choice? It does have sad moments, and it does have hilarious moments. It never really falls into the hole that it could have of being a terribly depressing story. It’s an interesting watch, and McConaughey and Leto in particular are just amazing.
6 out of 10 – Gained points for the sassiness that was Rayon, lost points for Woodroof’s homophobic friends completely turning on him once he gets sick, but then gains points for probably not showing the level of hate that he really experienced. Lost points for the excessive weight loss, I get that it was probably accurate, but it was really disturbing – and yes, I know that was the point of it. I can still find it off-putting!
Bonus Video 1: Sahara - I read some of the books, including this one, and I thought this movie was great! It didn't do well, but I'm still half-heartedly hoping they make more.
Bonus Video 2: Elektra, just in case you forgot...
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews