My choice for an Oscar,
Dallas Buyers Club (cert. 15) is the based-on-fact story of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), a Texan electrician and part-time rodeo bull rider, diagnosed with AIDS in 1985 and given 30 days to live. The efficacy of the drug AZT is unproven but it’s the only thing available that might prolong his life.
When his (illegal) source of the drug fails, a trip to Mexico to source more AZT leads him to a struck-off American doctor (Griffin Dunne) who tells him that AZT is poison, and instead prescribes alternative treatment. It works, and Ron sets out to supply the drugs to other sufferers back in Texas.
One of them is transgender Rayon (Jared Leto), seeking reassignment as a woman. Ron is avowedly heterosexual, but as his redneck chums and his policeman brother turn against him (with taunts of faggot) it’s to Rayon and to homosexual AIDS sufferers that he turns, albeit primarily as customers.
The drugs are not illegal, but unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration, so to avoid charges Ron sets up the “buyers’ club” whereby “members” pay $400 a month and get their meds “free.” FDA agent Richard Barkley (Michael O’Neill) is on his case, as Ron travels the world to seek effective treatments.
At the local hospital Dr Sevard (Denis O’Hare) is still using AZT in trials, but his junior Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) shares the concerns over the drug, and becomes a friend to Ron and Rayon. As the FDA try to restrict the supply of unapproved drugs – even for
McConaughey and Leto in Dallas Buyers Club terminal patients – Ron launches a legal challenge to allow people to choose what to take.
The judge rules that, though “moved with compassion”, he has no legal authority to overturn the FDA’s decision. In the film, it seems almost a death sentence – but Ron survived a lot longer than the 30 days first given.
How he contracted AIDS is hinted at in flashbacks – maybe a homosexual encounter, sharing a needle, or sex with an infected woman - and for his first use of AZT he tries a beer and cocaine chaser. Thankfully, we’re spared any hint of AIDS being God’s judgment and the only reference to religion is prayer – though what seems at first sight a church turns out to be a rather seedier location.
It is a powerful and moving tale, the best AIDSrelated cinema story since Philadelphia (1993), though the best of the drama comes in the early scenes. Apart from Rayon’s preference for laddered tights (fashion statement or some symbolism?) perhaps the best set-up is Ron’s return visit to Mexico where the latest treatment uses caterpillar secretions, and he’s shown in the butterfly farm – the man and the insects sharing a limited life span.
McConaughey, who lost three stone for the role, would be my choice for best actor Oscar®. Leto is up for best supporting actor, the film itself is in the best films category, and it’s a pity that director Jean-Marc Vallée missed out on a nomination.