Ron Woodroof was a southern cowboy whose life revolved around sex, drugs and bull riding. He had a day job as an electrician, but his heart was with the rodeo. One day, he got an electric shock at work that sent him straight to the hospital. The doctors came in and told him that he was HIV positive and that he had only 30 days left to live.
He died 7 years later in 1992.
The 7 years is remarkable, yes, but what’s even more remarkable is how Ron continually transformed his life during that time.
In Dallas Buyers Club, Ron is played by Matthew McConaughey. 23 kilos he had to lose in preparation for this role. That is a massive amount. McConaughey, always the strapping shirtless stud in movies that formed his career, is wrung up here to dry. He looks undernourished and fragile, as if the slightest gust of wind could knock him over and send him spinning like tumbleweed. What superior acting quality then that his inner person — the person fighting for his life — is as boisterous and passionate as Martin Luther King Jr.
By the time news of his condition hit Ron’s ears in 1985, his lifestyle had already destined him to an early grave. Cocaine, heroine, prostitutes, unprotected sex behind the gate of the rodeo arena. The saddest part about all this is that Ron, not for a second, believed he was living an unhealthy life. Or maybe he did. If he did, it’s even sadder that he did nothing about it. It’s no surprise then that the news came as a surprise to him.
I’m no professor on Texas. What I know of it is limited to what I see of it in the media and what I hear of it from other people. What this movie tells me is that much of Texas’ population in the ’80s was homophobic. To be gay, or to be associated with gays, was taboo. It cost you your job, your friends and your social status. To be infected by a disease most commonly associated with homosexuals meant that you’d be more successful landing a spot at the local diner if you were a leper.
This makes the Rayon character all the more vital. He is a transgender woman played by Jared Leto, an actor of considerable talent who also fronts his own rock band. From what I know, Rayon never existed. He was conjured by screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack as a means of amalgamating several real life people into one. Smart move. Seldom does such a risk pay off, but Rayon is such a good soul, so tormented by his own nature that he seems more real than real people. He is a demanding character, physically as well as emotionally. For him, AIDS is not a death warrant; it’s a fad. A little hiccup in an otherwise spotless life. Observe his deterioration throughout this film; it’s heartbreaking.
Ron meets him in the hospital. Rayon is there to try out a new drug called AZT, which is aimed at curing the disease. Ron’s on it too, but it does more harm than good. It attacks his immune system and obliterates all his good cells. Desperate, he drives south of the border to Mexico and receives treatment from a blacklisted doctor, who prescribes drugs unapproved by the FDA. Guess what! They work like a charm. Ron’s 30 days have already been extended to three months, and now his cells are regenerating.
He takes boxes full of the drugs back to Dallas and starts up the Dallas Buyers Club, a members-only medical society that guarantees relief from AIDS-induced symptoms. The FDA barges in, conducts random audits, and confiscates unapproved merchandise. Then the government passes a new law that only legalises approved drugs — “It means we were unapproved. Now we’re illegal”. So what do you do when you know you’ve got unapproved drugs that work and the government has approved ones that don’t?
The last third of Dallas Buyers Club revolves heavily around Ron’s battle with the FDA. By this point, he’s no longer homophobic, he’s no longer addicted to cocaine, he eats clean, he’s less concerned about making money off the drugs and more worried about the welfare of his fellow AIDS victims. This is an uplifting journey for such a character to be on. Dallas Buyers Club earns its money by focusing all its resources on its characters. Its two leading men are fully transformed by their actors. McConaughey shows dedication and a clever knack for expressing agitation. You can look into his eyes and feel his frustration with the healthcare system. Opposite him Leto delivers a tour de force as the damaged Rayon. Both actors have already been well endowed by awards this season, and rightly so.
Sometimes I cannot fathom the commitment that actors bring to their roles. They put their minds and bodies through hell just to hit the right notes. But then I see a movie like this, and it hits me.
Best Moment | There are many. I can’t pick one.
Worst Moment | I’m not sure why, but Jennifer Garner’s character didn’t quite do it for me. She’s good, but she could have been better. Miscast maybe?