Wednesday, 23 July, 2014

 
Published January 24, 2014
Cinema
A non-FDA-approved high
Dallas Buyers Club is a gritty diatribe against selling out to HIV, writes GEOFFREY EU
BT 20140124 GEDALLAS24A 927377

Stellar line-up: Matthew McConaughey plays an HIV-positive homophobe who has only a month to live and not much time to repent. Jared Leto plays Rayon, a feisty transgender ally. - PHOTO: SHAW

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BT 20140124 GEDALLAS24A 927377
BT 20140124 GEDALLAS24B 927378

SOMETIMES, the road to dusty death is paved with second chances - and a way to atone for all the wrong turns you took in life. Dallas Buyers Club is the true story of how a foul-mouthed, beer-swilling, coke-snorting, whore-loving homophobe transforms crushing adversity into opportunity and hope, channelling his anger and frustration into a larger cause.

When rodeo rider Ron Woodroof is diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and given 30 days to live, he tackles the disease head on, informing himself through medical journals and newspaper articles. He becomes an outspoken critic of the limited medical treatment available in the US and an unlikely crusader for AIDs by smuggling non-approved drugs from other countries and selling them - by way of membership - to fellow sufferers. Along the way, he takes on the medical establishment, the pharmaceutical industry and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

A lifetime of reckless behaviour catches up to Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) when he suffers an accident at work and is sent to hospital, where grim reality finally bites. In rapid succession, he rejects a tightly controlled trial drug programme administered by the hospital, buys much larger quantities of the same drug in a failed attempt to get better and is shunned by his former buddies for having a gay person's disease.

"I prefer to die with my boots on," says Woodruff by way of explaining his unwillingness to simply fade away. Time is running out but he's not giving up without a fight - so he heads to Mexico where a renegade doctor (Griffin Dunne) supplies him with a well-researched (but non-FDA-approved) cocktail of drugs and supplements.

The treatment helps to keep the disease at bay, the days turn into months and Ron decides to smuggle large quantities of the drugs back to the US, where to circumvent the law he sells "club memberships" rather than the pills themselves. Of course, the demand is overwhelming.

Woodruff has numerous run-ins with the authorities but he's convinced that his self-medication method trumps anything the hospital can do - and his continued survival is the ultimate proof of this. A doctor (Jennifer Garner) at the hospital is sympathetic to his cause and motivates him to regain some of his old swagger.

He's helped in his endeavours by Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender drug addict with a quick wit and the proverbial heart of gold. It's a long way from the rodeo, the cowboy bars and his white trash former friends but in the desperate quest to prolong his own life, Woodruff also learns something about compassion for others and tolerance of minority groups.

For a film about death and disease, Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean-Marc Vallee and written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, has its fair share of upbeat moments. This cautionary tale could have given in to melodrama but instead it's compelling stuff, worth watching for McConaughey's all-in performance alone.

There's a lot more to this film than a showy lead role, however. Woodroof makes no excuses for being the way he is - and there's much to dislike about him - but by the time this good old boy heads off into the sunset, we're glad we went along for the ride.

Rating: B+