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Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013 12:01 am

McConaughey, Leto shine

Jared Leto as Rayon and Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club


Very little was known about HIV or AIDS in 1985 when Ron Woodroof was diagnosed as having contracted the virus. Research was underway in order to find out how the spread of this scourge could be arrested or cured but the initial solutions that pharmaceutical companies came up with were desperate shots in the dark that did nothing but stoke the frustration of the afflicted and sometimes worsened their condition. The last thing those with the disease wanted was to be used as a guinea pig and yet that was the only hope many of them had.

Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club, one of the most vital American films of 2013, tells Woodroof’s story and is propelled by a palpable sense of anger aimed squarely at the Reagan Administration’s indifference to the crisis, the various pharmaceutical companies pursuit of profit at the expense of others’ health and the rampant fear and ignorance that prevented a wider public outcry from developing over the injustice that was occurring. And from all of this came an unlikely hero in Woodroof, a bigoted, immature young man whose reckless lifestyle on the rodeo circuit – he was a drug user and not adverse to casual sex – led him to his desperate situation and forced him to look at the world around him a more liberal, proactive manner.

As portrayed in the movie, Woodroof, brought to life by Matthew McConaughey in the performance of his career, is a man on a mission. Given only 30 days to live after being diagnosed, he quickly educates himself about the disease and the treatment available, only to realize that his options are few and contradictory. Told that the experimental drug AZT is his best hope, Woodroof procures it by scrounging in hospital garbage bins for cast off samples, only to find out that this medicine does more harm than good. A trip to Mexico brings him in contact with Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) who starts him on a regimen of vitamins, minerals and herbs, which does wonders. Other supplements help as well, but as they are not FDA approved, Woodroof cannot get them in the good ole U.S. of A., so he does what any dying man would do and smuggles them across the border. In an effort to raise money for his continued treatment, he begins to sell this medicine to other victims, only to run into interference from shortsighted authorities. However, Woodroof and his lawyer come up with a plan to set up a buyers club in which people pay monthly dues to belong and then are given these supplements as a perk of being a member.

The film does a very good job of juggling the battles Woodroof fought with the FDA for the remainder of his life with his complex personal issues as well. His striving to have a relationship based on mutual respect with a woman – in this case Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) – is interesting if not the most engaging aspect of the film, while his growing friendship with a transvestite named Rayon (a fantastic Jared Leto) proves to be the most poignant.

McConaughey and Leto are wondrous to behold here. In a year filled with strong male performances, theirs may be the very best, because quite simply, they’re taking far more chances on screen than their counterparts.

These two bring a nobility to these two men that society denied them and their unflinching performances help make Dallas Buyers Club one of the year’s best films.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at

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