Dallas Buyers Club

Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have both attracted headlines on the amount of weight they lost for this movie, three stone in McConaughey’s case. While taking method acting to its extreme, it is nevertheless a trivialisation of their respective performances in this heart-rending movie. My money is on them both scooping Oscars.

Inspired by the ‘true’ story of Ron Woodroof, an electrician working the rigs and living a trailer trash life fueled by sex, cocaine and a love of the rodeo, whose world is ripped apart by being diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. Shunned by his homophobic mates – for this is Reaganite America where the shock of Rock Hudsons’s homosexuality and resulting AIDS status is hitting the news – Ron is stung into action.

In the hospital AZT trials are in full swing but unable to be included or guaranteed the drug due to FDA regulations – “Screw the FDA, I’ll be DOA”– he first resorts to buying the drug illegally. Realising its toxicity, he turns to good old library research and ends up in Mexico finding drugs that alleviate the symptoms rather than effect a cure.

Ron reckons he’s onto a good thing and starts a business importing the drugs into the States. However the FDA is hot on his trail and he has to find a legal loophole to prevent his arrest from dealing. Hence the Dallas Buyers Club where a monthly subscription allows you as many free meds as you want. But he also needs to find some customers.

Cue the unlikely Bromance with transsexual Rayon (Leto), whom he encounters in one of his many hospital visits, and who is receiving, and dying from, AZT poisoning. Despite initial repugnance on first meeting,“Get the fuck out of here, whatever you are, before I kick you in the fucking face,” they get acquainted over a game of cards.An initial practical business partnership soon blossoms into a true friendship, with Rayon not only delivering a huge market, but also imbuing rough old Ron with an unexpected humanity in his quest to temper the suffering of Dallas’s gay community.

The film charts Ron’s mission to take on the FDA, challenging its every move against him, even in the High Court, and winning some small victories, but losing the big fights, preparing the way for re-defining the role of AZT in treating HIV/AIDs. As he says in one of the many harangues to pompous Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill) of the FDA, “Oh, I’m the drug dealer? No, you’re the fuckin’ drug dealer. I mean, goddamn, people are dyin’.” 

He is aided, sometimes unwittingly in this, by his burgeoning platonic friendship with one of the trial doctors, played straight by Jennifer Garner, who is also devoted to her patient Rayon. Gorgeous, fabulous Rayon, so beautiful yet so vulnerable, with his addiction to drugs and (my teenage heart-throb) Marc Bolan. A tear-jerking performance.

It’s hard to equate McConaughey to the rom-com star of The Wedding Planner, although more recent tough guy roles include the dazzling absconding criminal in Mud. With his native Texas drawl he slots into Ron’s shoes with little difficulty; he even manages the gait of a badass rodeo junkie, his legs bandy from malnutrition and riding the bucking broncos.

This is by no means a dry old goody-two-shoes tale of triumph over adversity. It is a fascinating, and chilling, record of how redneck America, as recently as the 1980s, was sidelining a very sick sector of society, how red-tape threatened to leave it to its fate,  and how Big Pharma looked after its own rather than serve its market.

While in many ways politically incorrect – no talk of condoms, despite the over-obvious imagery of cowboys riding the rodeo bulls bareback, with Ron rough-riding his tart in the shadows of the ring – and with accusations of heterosexuals playing gay parts abounding, it nevertheless perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the early days of the life sentence of HIV/AIDS diagnoses. As I said, my money on them for the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor Oscars. It’s a Hollywood movie alright, but one of the good ones.

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