Dallas Buyers Club

Directed By: Jean-Marc Vailée

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, and Jared Leto

I recently discovered Breaking Bad.  For the last three weeks, I've been inhaling the saga of Walter White day and night.  I've been so addicted to the series that I actually completed it in its entirety as of two nights ago.  The circumstances under which this high school chemistry teacher stricken with lung cancer becomes a drug kingpin are unbelievable.  Walter "Heisenberg" White did everything for all the wrong reasons.  Ultimately, it's quite fascinating to watch the devil in action.  Having seen Breaking Bad, I viewed Dallas Buyers Club and the real life story of Ron Woodroof just a little differently.  Afflicted with AIDS and "dealing" drugs to help people like him, Woodroof is White's exact opposite from my perspective.  I'm not saying he's an angel, but he's definitely a hero for fighting to get people the drugs they need.  He does what he does for all the right reasons.

Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) likes to party.  In his spare time, this Texan loves to head down to the rodeo and do some bull riding.  Not surprisingly, he loves to have a good time with the ladies.  After scamming some patrons with a bad bet one day, Ron runs back home to his trailer for his own safety.  As soon as he gets there, he collapses.  Ignoring the signs, he goes on with his life as usual.  An electrician by profession, Ron suffers an accident at work when a power box blows in front of him some days later.  Taken to the hospital, he learns that the accident is the least of his problems.  Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) and her boss (Denis O'Hare) inform Ron that he has HIV and, more importantly, only 30 days to live.  In a state of confusion and disbelief, Ron desperately tries to get his hands on anything that could prevent or delay the inevitable.  He learns of the new wonder drug AZT and asks Dr. Saks for it.  When he learns that Dr. Saks can only offer him a chance to enter the trial and that he risks getting the placebo, Ron takes other measures to get his hands on AZT.

Over the course of the next several weeks, Ron begins illegally purchasing AZT from a hospital janitor.  He also goes on a binge with liquor, cocaine, and other drugs that nearly costs him his life.  Back at the hospital, Ron is questioned by doctors about the AZT in his bloodstream.  While there, he also meets a fellow HIV patient named Rayon (Jared Leto), a cross-dressing homosexual.  Because he got caught with AZT in his system, Ron loses his clandestine supplier at the hospital and is forced to go to Mexico to get the drugs he needs.  When he gets down there, he meets a doctor who instructs him to stop taking AZT because of its high toxicity.  To get Ron back in the best health he can, the doctor puts him on a regimen of vitamins, minerals, peptide T, and DDC.  Feeling the best he has since his diagnosis, Ron asks the doctor if he can get these drugs stateside.  When he learns otherwise, he sees an opportunity to make a killing.  Posing as a priest, he smuggles peptide T ad DDC back across the border and starts selling it to other AIDS patients.  With the help of his hospital roommate Rayon, he expands his market and launches the Dallas Buyers Club.  The film chronicles how Ron's supposedly last 30 days become his last 2,557 days and how he changes the lives of so many Texans afflicted with AIDS by helping them get alternative treatments.

I have to take my hat off to Matthew McConaughey.  His performance in Dallas Buyers Club as this man fighting desperately for his life is moving, heartwarming, and thought-provoking.  Giving us a heroic vision of a man who used his last days on Earth to battle the FDA with every breath in his body and get fellow AIDS patients the treatment they need, McConaughey is profoundly resolute and endlessly charming on screen.  What's interesting to watch throughout the film is his character's progression as his ailment exposes him to a different side of life.  He transitions from a homophobic party boy who's all rodeo into a fierce advocate for the ailing outcasts of society and their well-being.  Since The Lincoln Lawyer, McConaughey's star has been on the rise.  With Dallas Buyers Club, we are seeing this seasoned actor at his absolute best.  With this outstanding performance, McConaughey may have an Oscar nomination in his future.

McConaughey has two strong supporting cast members as well in Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner.  For his part as Woodroof's homosexual partner in crime Rayon, Leto gives one hell of a performance.  A colorful, conflicted character whose life has taken a turn for the worst, Leto is the perfect Bonnie to McConaughey's Clyde.  He gives us a flawed man who's at times an emotional wreck and at others a bubbling social butterfly.  Leto's Rayon ultimately balances out McConaughey's Woodroof on screen.  For her part as Dr. Eve Saks, Garner delivers a solid performance as well.  While there's not as much depth to her character, she parallels McConaughey’s performance in a way.  As he transitions from homophobe to medical hero, she transitions from a blind minion of pharmaceutical companies to a doctor who takes the Hippocratic Oath to heart and believes in helping her patients above all else. 

Beyond just the acting, Dallas Buyers Club is a poignant drama that revisits a turbulent time in American history during which the epidemic known as AIDS wreaked havoc upon millions.  Director Jean-Marc Vailée’s creative choices really help to elevate his actors’ performances.  With dark, gritty cinematography and a mellow score, Vailée sets the right tone for this beautifully, tragic film.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Vailée’s use of sound in the film.  Vailée noticeably uses a harsh ringing sound to emphasize moments when the traumatic effects of Woodroof's AIDS are at their worst.  The sound mixing becomes particularly critical when Woodruff is about to collapse or his dementia is giving him hell.  Lastly, Vailée has a great make-up team whose work physically demonstrates the toll that AIDS takes on a person’s body.  The make-up really helps to highlight just how sick these people are.

Dallas Buyers Club is a strong entry into the Oscar race this awards season.  With impressive performances from McConaughey, Leto, and Garner, Jean-Marc Vailée has all he needs to bring the tale of Ron Woodroof to the big screen and remind us of what real American heroes look like.  They're the ordinary people who fight for what they believe in, even if that means going here, there, and everywhere around the globe to get the alternative treatments they and many others need to lead happy, healthy lives as long as they can.  Dallas Buyers Club gets a strong 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.