Dallas Buyers Club is a poignant film that depicts the true story of a working class electrician who pulled together every resource available to him in order to try to survive the AIDS virus as long as possible. Set in Texas in 1985, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, the film follows Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), a substance abusing, womanizing, redneck who wants nothing more out of life than a good time. But his carefree lifestyle takes a dramatic turn when he is diagnosed with AIDS, a “disease only faggots have”, and is given only 30 days to live. Refusing to accept his fate, Ron focuses all his energy on finding any medication available, legal or illegal, approved or unapproved, which will allow him to live longer.
Woodruff’s search for medication leads him to a clinic in Mexico to a doctor whose medical license has been revoked. He explains to Woodruff that AZT, the medication most commonly prescribed to AIDS patients is, in fact, unsafe for the immune system and should only be taken in small doses with vitamin supplements. Woodruff, realizing that this Mexican clinic holds considerable quantities of the medications needed to battle the AIDS virus, takes the opportunity to smuggle a large supply across the border to sell to fellow AIDS victims for a profit. Beyond making money, he does so because he is concerned about preventing further deaths caused by the currently used AZT medication. His actions subsequently lead to the formation of the Dallas Buyers Club, an unapproved (and later proclaimed illegal) dispensary that provides medications to anyone who pays a membership fee.
As the film chronicles McConaughey’s struggle for survival, we are given a glimpse into the moral transformation of his character. Ron is introduced to us as a homophobic and self-absorbed playboy who seems to have little direction in his life, but as he begins along his journey to battle the AIDS virus, we see him develop into a disciplined, selfless, and tolerant man. Jared Leto, who plays McConaughey’s transvestite business partner Rayon, becomes central to Ron’s new life under the AIDS virus, playing an important role in both his business life as well as his ever-changing social life. Coming into contact with a variety of victims, the majority of whom are homosexuals, Ron develops a unique bond with Rayon, even defending him against discrimination.
In terms of the narrative, this film does not attempt to serve as a commentary on gay rights or the redneck views of white southerners in the United States. The film’s primary intention is to depict one man’s struggle for survival at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and the contributions he made to the lives of other victims in the process. We are presented with the controversial and opposing lifestyles of Leto and McConaughey to understand how they contracted the virus, though leading very different lifestyles and how their different habits affected their personal struggle for survival.
The two lead actors deliver phenomenal performances in this film. Having already received Golden Globe and SAG awards, it would seem highly unlikely that they should fail to receive Oscars at the awards show this March. Matthew McConaughey’s performance moves far beyond we have seen from him previously. He abandons his trademark light-hearted, fun-loving persona in favour of a much darker character who is not interested in how he is viewed by others. Having lost a considerable amount of weight in order to present a sallow and deathly figure for this role, such preparation and its physical impact must have presented a challenge for the typically rom-com actor. Nevertheless, this film proves to audiences everywhere that McConaughey is as capable of taking on the challenge of a serious acting role as any previously Oscar nominated actors before him.
Jared Leto also gives a magnetic performance in this film. Although he is only a supporting role, his eccentric, tormented persona makes a significant impact on the viewer, and his character’s influence on McConaughey certainly qualifies this role as one of the most memorable in the history of film. His performance rivals those of previously acclaimed films which feature a transvestite character, including Oscar nominated films such as The Crying Game and All About My Mother. Moreover, Leto’s performance in this film will prove to critics and audiences alike that he is a valuable asset to the film industry.
Dallas Buyers Club is a movie that should not only be watched for its incredible true story of survival and unlikely human bonding, but also for its spectacular performances and its ability to convey both the political and social struggles surrounding the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in America. The film teaches a valuable lesson about the struggles of those battling the virus, and the politics that accompany a physician’s decisions to prescribe certain medications. The film’s memorable characters and objective narration of the lives of early AIDS victims should appeal to audiences of all types. Overall, this film deserves its Oscar recognition.