Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Gardner, Denis O'Hare, Dallas Roberts, Steve Zahn, Deneen Tyler
Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) has already depleted a majority of his immune system by the copious amounts of drugs and alcohol he has ingested into his body. After a drug fueled trip to the hospital, he is diagnosed with HIV and given the standard 30 days to live. He is a racist and homophobe who recently learned of Rock Hudson's diagnosis with the disease and is quick to make it clear that he is not gay so there must be some mistake. Ron does some research on the disease and comes to the realization that his intravenous drug use and unprotected sex with other druggies are what caused it.
He learns of the recently FDA approved drug AZT being used in test trials and demands to be put on it. Dr. Eve Saks (Gardner) informs him there is no way of knowing if he would receive the drug or be a placebo patient. This uncertainty leads to smuggling the drug from the hospital. His supply is cut off, but he heads to a secret doctor (Griffin Dunne) in Mexico for a vitamin regimen that may be a healthier alternative. During another trip to the hospital, he meets Rayon (Leto), a transgender HIV patient with a severe drug problem. Ron sees an opportunity in Rayon who is making a profit off selling HIV medications to the gay community. It is illegal to sell the non-approved regimen, so they start up the Dallas Buyers Club where members can pay a monthly fee to be in the club and then receive the drugs for free.
Buzz about the film arose early on when set photos appeared showing a drastically thin McConaughey and Leto. They both excel at these transformative portrayals giving two career-defining performances. I mentioned in my review of Mud, there will always be a bit of McConaughey in his performances. While that glimmer still resides, Ron Woodroof is the furthest away he has gotten from that image he has given us in the last twenty years of his career. He has had a solid two years of fantastic performances in starring and supporting roles. His physicality and gruff attitude can be scary at times when the “old” Ron comes into play, but McConaughey finds the determination and humanity in him as he gradually opens up and finds something to fight for. Leto is no stranger to playing drug addicts after his performance in Requiem for a Dream. He perfectly embodies Rayon and lets the sweet, delicate, warm, and heartbreaking sides of her shine through. He never once crosses into caricature or does some sort of gimmicky impression of a drag queen or transgender person. Do not be surprised if he walks away with some gold come Oscar night. He will be the one to beat in the Supporting Actor category at every awards ceremony.
These two fine actors make the film recommendable despite the fact that the overall execution of the movie is quite choppy at times. Despite the fact the film tries to cover a lot of ground in the story, it feels a bit too rushed and lacks a specificity to it. I do not think director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriters Melisa Wallack and Craig Borten know what part of the story they want to tell. Is it about Ron's transformation from a homophobic cowboy to a caring individual? Was it about the growing clientele he helped and the impact of buyers clubs throughout the states? There is also the mini plot line about the war against the FDA. This is the first screenplay for Borten. Wallack previously penned the screenplays for Meet Bill and Mirror Mirror, which I detested. The script feels quite amateurish in the line of character development. In an attempt to tell various aspects of Ron's journey after being diagnosed and to keep it fast paced, they gloss over some needed introduction of numerous supporting characters who just pop up out of nowhere. Outside of Rayon, we never really learn about other members of the club. You see people walking in and out of the hotels to pick up their vitamins, but we never really get to know them. The characters of Denise (Tyler) and David Wayne (Roberts) just show up to start working for Ron, but we do not really know where they ever came from or what their stories are.
More importantly, it brings an awareness and attention to a very important part of history with the rise in the HIV/AIDS crisis. I was too young to know the history when it was going on, so films like this can be important teaching tools to shine a light on the impact and severity of the disease. It is a shame that the film has so much potential but does not quite know how to deliver it to its full impact. Luckily McConaughey and Leto are so moving that they draw us in and make us invested into these characters as they stand up for what they believe in.
RATING: *** 1/2 (3.5 out of 5 stars)