Movies: "Dallas Buyers Club" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Dallas Buyers Club"
Movies: "Dallas Buyers Club"


In his earlier film career, Matthew McConaughey seemed lazy and laid-back, letting his well-toned body do most of the acting for him.   But with this year’s “Mud” and now “Dallas Buyers Club,” he is putting all he’s got into his craft, even dropping almost 40 pounds to play the whippet-thin AIDS patient Ron Woodroof.


Woodroof was the real-life founder of the Dallas Buyers Club, which offered alternative meds to AIDS patients willing to shell out $400 a month for membership.  Originally given thirty days to live after his initial diagnosis, Woodroof survived for another seven years, and became the subject of a lengthy profile in a Dallas newspaper.


McConaughey is joined here by another brilliant actor, Jared Leto, back on screen after a four-year hiatus as the doomed drag queen Rayon (born Raymond);  Jennifer Garner plays the sympathetic Dr. Eve Saks;  Dennis O’Hare, who has regularly played a judge on “The Good Wife,” as an officious doctor;   another “Good Wife” alum, Dallas Roberts, as Woodroof’s hard-working lawyer;  and by Griffin Dunne, who’s been missed since his earlier outings in “After Hours” and “An American Werewolf in London,”  as the expat doctor in Mexico who prolongs Woodroof’s life and provides him with the forbidden herbal medications that will become the stock in trade of the buyers’ club. 


The interesting thing in this movie is how unsympathetic a character Ron Woodroof must have been.  An electrician and part-time rodeo rider by trade, he starts off as a loud-mouthed, homophobic redneck, given to drug and alcohol abuse.  He can’t comprehend his AIDS diagnosis until he remembers a rushed sexual encounter with a junkie hooker.  But with his new career as a purveyor of alternative medicines, his relationships with both Rayon and Dr. Saks will warm up.


The second aspect of this movie is the era in which it’s set.  In the early 1980s, AIDS was “the gay plague,” stirring up fear, loathing and recrimination in the Reagan-era public.  Think back: it wasn’t that long ago.  And while thousands of AIDS patients were dying, the Food and Drug Administration put all its federal clout behind a highly-toxic treatment, AZT.  Much of the movie focuses on Woodroof’s personal battle with a determined FDA agent, played by Michael O’Neill.


“Dallas Buyers Club” has apparently been kicking around as a movie concept for two decades now.  It was finally made real by McConaughey, who put his money as well as his acting chops into making it.  It was directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallee (“The Young Victoria”), and shot by fellow Canadian Yves Belanger in New Orleans, not Dallas.


It’s a grim and grimy look back at recent history, and is rated R for its sex scenes, language and adult matter.  I might have given it a lesser grade but for the performances by McConaughey and Leto.  


I give it a B.