2013 – Dallas Buyers Club











Dallas Buyers Club – 2013

This was a movie that I enjoyed watching, but I don’t need to see it a second time. It was a fictionalization of true life events which took place during the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when being diagnosed with the disease was a death sentence.  Back then, they didn’t know what drugs were effective, or what doses were appropriate.  They got many of the details right, but not all of them. The Film stars Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner in the leads.

McConaughey and Leto apparently transformed themselves physically for the roles. McConaughey lost nearly fifty pounds in order to portray Ron Woodruff, a straight man who contracted the HIV virus which turned into full blown AIDS.  Leto lost thirty pounds, shaved his eyebrows, and waxed his entire body.  He got so much into his character that Jean-Marc Vallée, the film’s director was quoted as saying that Leto, “…refused to break character during filming,” and, “I don’t know Leto. Jared never showed me Jared.”

The main drama film centers around Woodruff’s challenges in getting proper treatment. It was the mid-80s, and at that time, not much was known about the AIDS virus, or how to treat it.  Jennifer Garner played Dr. Eve Saks, along-side Dr. Sevard, played by Denis O’Hare, both of whom work at a Dallas hospital. The drug AZT was still in its experimental phase, and nobody knew exactly how to use it to treat the victims. Apparently, it is a toxic drugs. Sure, it is effective in killing the virus, but it also kills the patient if not administered properly. So, rather than die using the drug, Woodruff looks for other means of treatment.

Ron even has to deal with the stigma of having the disease.  His friends accuse him of being a homosexual and spurn him.  He is evicted from his home.  And even the doctors only deal with him while wearing surgical masks.  But he quickly pulls himself together and does what he can to find an alternative to AZT.  He goes south of the border, to Mexico. There he meets a physician named Dr. Vass, play by Griffin Dunne. He prescribes a more naturalistic regimen of drugs. The only trick is that even though they work to cure Woodruff of his symptoms, these nontoxic treatments have not been approved by the United States FDA.  Woodruff’s solution is to smuggle the drugs into the United States, where he puts them to good capitalistic use. He begin selling them to AIDS patients, and makes a lot of money doing it.   Of course, the hospitals and U.S. pharmaceutical companies, not to mention the FDA, don’t like the competition. At first Vass’s remedies are simply unapproved in the United States, but out of what almost seems like a vindictive nature, the FDA goes out of its way to make the drugs illegal.

The climax of the film was almost anti-climactic. Woodruff goes to court in defense of the drugs, because, quite simply, they relieve symptoms where AZT makes the patient sicker. Unfortunately, he loses the court case. He goes home in despair.  But when he arrives, all the people he has helped are there to greet him with a round of applause. He has been helping them, while the hospitals have been hurting them and allowing them to die.

Now, that’s all very well and good, especially if that much of the film is historically accurate. What I had a problem with, was treating Woodruff as so much of a hero. First, he was portrayed as a homophobic, redneck, jerk. He only went on his crusade to help himself, and only distributed the meds to the people that needed it for profit. In other words, he didn’t do it to help people.  He did everything to help himself.  But I suppose that’s all just semantics. In helping himself, he helped others. But if he was really so altruistic about his motives, he wouldn’t have charged other people so much money for the drugs.

But maybe that was part of the point.  His character had an arch that changed from redneck ass to sympathetic crusader. He makes friends with Rayon, played by Leto, a transgendered homosexual who was both a drug user and an AIDS victim.  While Woodruff supplied the medications, Rayon provided the clients. Together, the two formed a partnership, and then a surprising friendship.  Ron clearly comes to care for Rayon, despite his habitual drug use.  Eventually, during the emotional scene in which Rayon succumbs to his illness, Ron gets mad enough to go to the hospital and accuse them of murdering him.

But here’s the real twist of the story that never made it into the script.  According to my Wikipedia research, I learned that really, none of the treatments that Woodruff prescribed were actually effective against the AIDS virus, and in some cases were more dangerous than the AZT.  Now, that wasn’t a fault with the script, but I would think it should have been important to acknowledge in the movie.

Either way, I have to agree with the Academy on all counts.  McConaughey and Leto deserved their Oscars, but the film didn’t need to win for Best Picture.  That being said, it did win the Oscar for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.  But I stand by what I said.  Dallas Buyers Club was worth watching, but only once.


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