HIV is one of the most of the most destructive viruses today, of which a cure has yet to be found. Thus a film about HIV and AIDS is going to be both somber and unsettling. Dallas Buyer’s Club is definitely that, examining the effect of AIDS in America in a time when both homosexuality and HIV itself were still considered taboo. More than that, Dallas Buyer’s Club is an excellent example of masterclass acting. Never treading into preachy territory, Dallas Buyer’s Club plays it’s cards straight, simply telling the story of one man’s attempt to prolong his life and the lives of others as well. Ron Woodroof’s character, warts and all, doesn’t deserve our pity, and yet by the end, we can’t help but feel sorry for him.
After a workplace accident lands Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) in the hospital, he discovers that his life of hard living has caught up to him when he is informed that he has contracted HIV. Ron refuses to accept the news, and despite given 30 days left to live, continues his hard-drinking, drug-taking ways, before he learns that his reckless lifestyle has led to him contracting HIV. Having come to terms with the fact that he may not live much longer, Ron enters survival mode, paying a hospital janitor to sneak him AZT, a new drug used to treat HIV. After Ron’s supply of AZT dries up, he heads to Mexico where FDA unapproved drugs are bountiful. Thus begins Ron’s new enterprise- supplying ‘illegal’ drugs to others who are also affected. With the help of Rayon (Jared Leto), a transvestite and fellow AIDS patient, Ron slowly builds his new business, with more and more patients showing up each day. Called the Dallas Buyer’s Club, Ron’s business has also caught the eye of the DEA and FDA, who are determined to shut down the booming enterprise. Soon Ron’s motivations begin to change, as helping those in need of treatment become more important than making money.
Dallas Buyer’s Club is a small film, yet showcases some of the best acting this year. Matthew McConaughey in particular is outstanding, diving into the role both mentally and physically. McConaughey lost 50 pounds in preparation of playing Ron Woodroof, and the impact of the lost weight is immediately seen in the opening moments of the film. So gaunt and frail is McConaughey, it’s amazing that he was able to perform at all. Not since Christian Bale in The Machinist has anyone looked so thin and weak. The meat of the character, however, comes from McConaughey’s performance which is so hauntingly realistic that it’s easy to forget you are watching a movie. As of late, McConaughey has slowly built himself an impressive resume of performances (The Lincoln Lawyer, Bernie, and Mud) but this is by far his best performance. Ron Woodroof is a complicated character; homophobic, foul-mouthed, chauvinistic, and yet McConaughey is able to bring charm to his character that makes him almost likable. As Ron progresses through the five stages of grief, McConaughey convincingly portrays each moment with such restraint. Never once does his performance feel forced or contrived, instead progressing naturally. So too does Jared Leto’s performance as Rayon. The burden of carrying HIV, being outcast by a conservative father, as well as battling drug addiction are all balanced beautifully by Leto. Though the pain is apparent, Rayon still remains positive, becoming the Yang to Ron’s Yin. Leto also dropped weight for the performance, and yet as frail as Rayon looks, exudes strength and resilience during a time when being transgender and HIV positive were frowned upon. Even Jennifer Garner’s performance as Dr. Eve is moving as she must struggle to do what is morally right concerning her job at the hospital and ethically right concerning those she is helping.
Dallas Buyer’s Club is a hard to film to watch, leaving a somber feeling when it is over. Backed by strong performances, especially by Matthew McConaughey, it’s hard to not feel moved by the end, especially when considering that the film is based on true events. It’s not often that the performance of one actor can lift a film from obscurity to widespread recognition (just as Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster did), but Dallas Buyer’s Club is definitely a film that benefits from the performances of Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.