Review of Dallas Buyers Clubs

[Reposted from Facebook]

OK, so we finally saw Dallas Buyers Club, now that two of its actors, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, are not only nominated for Oscars but are favored to win. We saw the preview for this film a number of times last Fall (when we were seeing Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave et al), but I think I was put off seeing it by the impression that the lead character was just a very unpleasant fellow.

Well, he is, an unpleasant fellow — a Texas cowboy who, presumably via unprotected sex with a variety of hookers and rodeo groupies, contracts HIV, back in 1986, and reacts furiously when questioned by medical staff about possible sex with other men. The arc of the film’s plot follows his independent (remarkably thorough) research into potential drugs that might keep him alive past his 30-day diagnosis, leading him to Mexico and other countries, and eventually his setting up of a ‘buyers club’ to provide medications to those who need them via a ‘membership’ scheme, and his gradual softening to his fellow victims, including a transsexual, Rayon (played by Jared Leto), who eventually becomes his business partner. (There were apparently other such ‘buyers clubs’ in other cities, to circumvent FDA regulations; especially San Francisco.)

Both McConaughey’s and Leto’s performances are amazing and excruciating, in the sense they are pushing limits of playing unpleasant characters and in the sense that both actors lost lots of weight; for their art, they convincingly look gaunt and unhealthy. Since Oscars often go to actors/actresses who push physical limits and/or who play unconventional characters, yes, I would agree that they are the matter-of-fact front-runners.

The social theme in the film is the evil of structured medical procedures and the FDA, which (at least at the time) held off approval of drugs like AZT until year-long double-blind studies could be done…while victims were dying within weeks. Ron Woodroof, McConaughey’s character, had a point, and though as history played out, he lost his lawsuit against the FDA, the FDA did in fact change its policies to fast-track certain drugs for those who were terminally ill and had no other options. And he lived 7 years, 6 more than his original diagnosis.

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