Review: Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Dallas Buyers Club
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, and Jared Leto
Genre: Biopic / Drama
Released: November 2013 by Focus Features
Running time: 117 mins (1 hr, 57 mins)
Rated: 15 (UK) R (USA)
Rating: ★★★★

IMDb | View Trailer

Matthew McConaughey headlines director Jean-Marc Vallée’s biographical drama centring on the story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1985, and who subsequently devoted his life to providing fellow HIV patients with non-FDA-approved drugs and supplements during an era when doctors were still struggling to understand the devastating disease. Defying his surprise death sentence, Woodroof set out to procure any and all non-toxic alternative HIV treatments available, and established a “buyers club” to provide the treatments to others afflicted with the disease. But that mission quickly made him a target for both the U.S. medical establishment and the pharmaceutical industry, both of which resented his defiance of government sanctions, and joined forces to shut down his operation by any means necessary.

To be completely honest (I don’t know why I wouldn’t be honest), I had very little interest in Dallas Buyers Club before the Oscars. I had no idea of what it was about, and I hadn’t seen a single Matthew McConaughey film (the only film I’d seen Jared Leto in was American Psycho) so it wasn’t until after it got both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor and I did some reading into the subject of the film that I was interested and started searching around for the closest cinema to me that was showing it because my local cinema sucks. Well, only when it comes to independent films. I went into this film with a completely blank mind due to the amount of criticism that the film had received for Jared Leto’s portrayal as a transgender woman, and I’m glad that I did because if I hadn’t I don’t think I would have enjoyed the film as much as I did.

Dallas Buyers Club is the true story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas electrician who finds out that he is HIV positive and has contracted AIDS, which was horrifically branded as the ‘gay plague’ in the 1980s (it was labelled that by British tabloids but I’m not sure if it was in the USA). After word gets out about his illness, Ron is deserted by all his friends, fired from his job, and evicted from his home, as pretty much everyone he knows assumes that he is gay, although he contracted the illness by having unprotected sex with a hooker who had been abusing drugs. After having an awful experience with the drug AZT, which was still in the testing stages, Ron devotes his life to helping other AIDS patience feel better without using AZT or any illegal substances. While this film isn’t exactly an LGBT+ film, it does deal with the importance of gay importance, which has drastically improved since the 80s but still has a way to go and is definitely an important issue. I think the most important part of Dallas Buyers Club was seeing how Ron had gone from being a homophobic, sexist, racist piece of human garbage, to actually treating the people he was helping like human beings and being accepting of who they are and the fact that nobody can help the way that they are born. This aspect of the film is definitely what made it both heart-warming and heartbreaking, and it’s also what made me want to act out violently to the annoying middle-aged couple in my row who laughed at the most inappropriate of times.

Dallas Buyers Club is a very character driven film and although I can’t comment on how accurately the cast portrayed the people in the film because I don’t know much about the real story, I still do think that the cast is fantastic, especially the three main members. As I’d said earlier, I’m not too acquainted with their work and since watching this film, I’ll probably be checking out their other works in the future. I definitely think that both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto deserved their Oscars because their performances were amazing.

Even though I hadn’t seen any of his other work, I can’t really imagine anybody else playing the part of Ron Woodroff other than Matthew McConaughey. He managed to show all sides of Ron and how he had managed to go from a generally unpleasant person so someone to cared about the people he helped. Another thing that I liked about Ron was just how fragile he really was. As much as he didn’t want to show it to anybody, he was just as frightened as everyone else suffering with AIDS and felt really alone. Obviously there is pretty much no way for me to empathise with him, but I truly did feel sorry for Ron quite a lot. Everyone he knew and cared about before he was diagnosed deserted him and just wouldn’t listen to his explanation as to how he managed to catch the virus, and it taught him about accepting people who weren’t like him and I found that to be an incredibly important element of the film.

My one issue with this film comes in the character Rayon, who is played by Jared Leto. My problem isn’t that she is played by a man (which is what the film received a lot of criticism for), it’s the fact that all the way through the film she is misgendered by pretty much everyone. She’s even misgendered in her presence but doesn’t correct anyone. It’s just not right that a character who identifies as female isn’t addressed as such by the other characters. Putting that to one side, I think that Rayon was my favourite character in the film, even though she didn’t exist and was created for the film. Similarly to Ron, she really showed just how fragile people are as she went from being confident and not particularly phased by her illness, to being terrified of what was yet to come and the fact that she had no control over her own death.

Overall, I really enjoyed Dallas Buyers Club. The performances were amazing and deserving of their awards, despite some of them being made up for the film, and the storytelling was fantastic. I’ll definitely be picking up a copy for myself when the film is released on DVD, but in the meantime I may venture out to the cinema to see it again. Hopefully there won’t be any annoying laughers there if I do go.

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