Nominated for six Academy Awards, Dallas Buyers Club is a profoundly moving biopic of a hard-drinking Texan electrician, who refused to passively accept that his HIV-positive diagnosis in the mid 1980s was a death sentence.
Instead, Ron Woodroof smuggled a cocktail of unapproved drugs into America in direct defiance of his physician, who believed clinical trials were the only way to combat the virus.
Woodroof established a club to sell medications to other HIV-positive patients but his actions drew the attention of police and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which took eight to 12 years to approve a new drug.
Ron didn’t have time on his side – doctors expected him to be dead within a month – so he bent the rules to stay alive.
His inspirational crusade became a beacon of hope: Woodroof died on September 12, 1992, several years after he was diagnosed with the virus.
Jean-Marc Vallée’s well-crafted picture opens at a rodeo ring where Ron (Matthew McConaughey) is engaged in unprotected sex with two women in the bull stall.
A few days later at work, he is electrocuted and regains consciousness at Dallas Mercy Hospital where Dr Nathan Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and colleague Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) deliver the hammer blow: blood tests have confirmed that Ron is HIV-positive and he is given 30 days to live.
Defiantly he travels to Mexico to source non FDA-approved AZT from Dr Vass (Griffin Dunne).
The medic shatters Ron’s hopes.
“The only people AZT helps are the people who sell it. It kills every cell it comes in contact with, good and bad,” confides Dr Vass, who prescribes other drugs and vitamins.
This cocktail keeps Ron alive and he goes into business with an HIV-positive transvestite called Rayon (Jared Leto) to peddle the same pills to gay men living with the virus.
Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t sugar-coat a bitter pill. Woodroof isn’t portrayed as a flawless, morally robust hero.
However, the friendship with Rayon opens Ron’s eyes to the lasting good he can achieve through his business.
McConaughey is mesmerising, shedding 40 pounds to convincingly portray the emaciated sandy-haired hustler, who dared to live only when he had a death sentence hanging over his cowboy hat.
Leto is equally compelling, concealing his character’s pain behind the armour of fake eyelashes, earrings and painted nails.
Screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack exercise some artistic licence: Rayon is a fictional creation. However, these additions don’t detract from the emotional wallop of Jean-Marc Vallée’s film, or from the daring of Ron’s enterprise.
Dallas Buyers Club
Stars Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto