Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Dallas Buyers Club (2013) ***½

R, 117 min.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writers: Craig Borton, Melissa Wallack
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Michael O’Neill, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Rankin, Donna Duplantier, Deneen D. Tyler, J.D. Evermore, Ian Casselberry

Last year, I watched the Oscar nominated documentary “How To Survive a Plague”, about the battle to find a workable treatment for people infected with the HIV virus. I learned a great deal about the disease and the struggles of getting workable drugs to fight infectious diseases in this country. “Dallas Buyers Club” gives us a dramatization of a real story from the front lines of that battle. It is both heartbreaking and inspirational.

Ron Woodroof lived and played hard. He was a rodeo bull rider, a boozer, did drugs, had promiscuous and unprotected sex with prostitutes and anywhere he could get it, he gambled and was an all around good ol’ boy. In 1986, after a workplace accident, he was diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. He was offered a place in a medical trial for the controversial drug AZT that he probably wouldn’t even live to begin. So, he went to Mexico to seek treatment with drugs not approved by the FDA. When his treatments worked he decided to bring the drugs back to the U.S. in order for other HIV sufferers to benefit from their use and for his own profit. Woodroof kept himself alive for more than eight years using non-FDA approved treatments.

Matthew McConaughy won a well-deserved Oscar this year for his portrayal of Woodroof. Jared Leto won another acting Oscar for his portrayal of a transvestite also seeking alternative treatment for the disease, again well-deserved. McConaughy takes Woodroof from being a believable bigot to a shining advocate for patient rights no matter their sexual proclivities. The movie is a little coy regarding Woodroof’s actual sexual preferences, suggesting that he contracted the virus either through having sex with a drug user or through a bisexual encounter. There is some debate about this issue and the film deals with it in an appropriately mysterious manner.

The movie is just as important in unveiling the truth about how this disease was approached by our government and the public as “How to Survive a Plague”, and as a dramatic rendering, is possibly even more effective. There are some holes and gaps in its telling. I would’ve liked to know more details about the operation of the Dallas Buyers Club business that allowed Woodroof to get the unapproved drugs into the hands of those who needed them. I’d be particularly interested in how he found his lawyer and what his lawyer felt about Woodroof personally and his cause. Despite any gaps, it is a powerful film that deserves all of the surprise attention it got due to the Oscars.

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