My choice for an Os­car,

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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.

Steve Par­ish

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