March 6, 2014

McConaughey, Leto shine in film about dark subject

When you watch Dallas Buyers Club, you'll immediately see why Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto won 2014 Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role, respectively. This film was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture, but was beaten out by 12 Years a Slave. Jennifer Garner also turned in a powerful performance in this one as Eve, a young doctor.

You've probably seen the trailer in which Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), who has AIDS, is told that he should get his affairs in order because he has about 30 days to live. Eve was one of those doctors, and Woodroof insults her by calling her a nurse—a mistake that was easily made in those days. That was in 1986, according to Woodroof's biography. Woodroof reacts violently to the news because he is a straight man who everyone now assumes is gay. He is also not an intravenous drug user, which makes the cause of his condition even more perplexing. He was, however, quite the womanizer, and during the course of trying to figure out the cause he remembers having sex with a certain woman who may have been infected.

Little was known about AIDS in 1986. Doctors, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration were struggling to find a cure. In what he thought would be his last 30 days on earth, Woodroof visits his local library and crams into his brain everything he can read on the topic of HIV and AIDS. His research puts him in direct conflict with doctors in Dallas who were trying to treat the disease with massive doses of the drug AZT. He eventually ends up in Mexico, where he finds an expatriate American doctor who heaps piles of medicines on him that are not available in the United States. He loads his trunk with these possible cures and heads home, only to be stopped at the border and interrogated by an FDA official. This leads to a long and nasty fight with the FDA.

With the help of his transsexual friend Rayon (Jared Leto in extreme drag), he begins selling the drugs out of his car to infected people all over Dallas. This leads to the business he named Dallas Buyers Club—not an original name as similar buyers clubs already existed in other parts of the country.

Eve becomes extremely dissatisfied with the older doctors at her hospital, whom she believes are not taking seriously enough the effort to find a cure for their large and growing number of Dallas patients. So, she teams up with Woodroof and Rayon in what becomes a warm and fuzzy friendship.

Woodroof died of AIDS in 1992, several years after the doctors gave him just 30 days to live, and his methods of treatment caught the attention of AIDS researchers everywhere.

This is a serious film on a serious topic, but it wouldn't be a McConaughey film without some light McConaughey moments. They are few, but they exist at just the right places in the film to keep it from becoming too maudlin. One of my favorite character actors, Steve Zahn, adds to some of those light moments as Woodroof's cop buddy, Tucker. McConaughey did something for this film that I consider dangerous. He starved himself into a very thin condition in order to add realism to his AIDS-infected character. It worked and he is now back up to his normal weight, but I wonder about the long-term effects on the actor's health.

This is a great film, well deserving of the Oscar nomination.  On my scale of two thumbs up, this one gets two full thumbs. Everyone should see this true story. Thanks for reading.

© 2014 Will Daniel

1 comment:

  1. Just saw this film and I agree with everything you wrote. The film moved along at a very crisp pace, and I didn't nod out once, which is my normal mode for film watching these days. MM and JL were both excellent in their roles, and fully deserving of their Oscars. Two thumbs up here too.


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