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Friday, 15 November 2013 00:00

'Dallas Buyers Club' dramatizes HIV/FDA battle in mid-'80s

'Dallas Buyers Club' dramatizes HIV/FDA battle in mid-'80s jared-leto.net
Written by Diane Carson
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  • Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
  • Dates: Opens November 15, 2013

As "Dallas Buyers Club" opens, the camera is trapped in a rodeo pen, peering through the slats at Ron Woodroof sexually engaged with two women. In an adjoining pen, a trapped bull and rider are getting ready to be turned loose for their combat. An apt metaphor, Woodroof will find himself similarly trapped, ready for battle, and fighting mad.

An electrician who ends up in the hospital after an accident, Ron is told he has 30 days to live after blood tests lead to HIV diagnosis. Woodroof will thrash about in denial and then gather himself to battle the mid-1980s medical establishment, especially the FDA, in his determination first to live and then to profit from, and secondarily help, others similarly infected. At one point Ron says, "Screw the FDA; I'm gonna be DOA." And the AZT treatment, being tested in a double blind study in 1986, confirms that fear.

Based on a true story, "Dallas Buyers Club" takes its title from the "club" that Woodroof forms to circumvent potential criminal charges. On a trip to Mexico, desperate for help, Ron sees the monetary potential of alternative treatments. So it begins. Those with HIV purchase a $400 a month membership, but all the drugs are free--from vitamins to proteins to experimental medicines.

Canadian-born director Jean-Marc Vallée unconventionally and wisely resists making Ron a hero. In fact, the homophobic Woodroof is a brawler who does drugs and gambles too much. This helps his gradual change feel more honest, though I wish the story had focused more on details of the FDA culpability and medical irresponsibility. As it is, some scenes nicely clarify details, including a quick flashback explaining Ron's contracting HIV; but other scenes feel half-baked with disjointed progression.

As Woodroof, the familiar Matthew McConaughey has become virtually unrecognizable, reportedly losing 50 pounds for the role. Putting aside any vanity, he delivers an astonishing performance, as does Jared Leto as Rayon, Ron's transvestite hospital room and then business partner. Jennifer Garner has a less flashy role as Dr. Eve Sacks, but she makes the most of her subdued, educable medical professional.

"Dallas Buyers Club" recalls a fairly recent, difficult time for those with HIV diagnosis and the contribution of an unusual activist. At a Landmark Theater.

 

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