It is Oscar season and time for the 8th annual Best Picture Showcase presented by AMC theaters. This year we have nine movies to view including Dallas Buyer’s Club.
Dallas Buyer’s club is based on a true story about one man’s fight to stay alive when he is diagnosed with AIDS in the 1980’s, and how he helps others survive as well. The movie is graphic at times with lots of bad language, sex and drug use, but to me it is a story worth telling and remembering. We treated people with AIDS horribly in the 1980’s, and it is a tale that is worth remembering. This movie is nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jared Leto), Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Hair Styling, and Best Original Screenplay.
Plot: Ron Woodroof is what you would call a man’s man. He is an electrician and often a bull rider. He and his other redneck buddies drink, smoke, do cocaine, and have lots of causal sex. While in the hospital for a work related injury, Ron gets diagnosed with HIV. In the 1980’s, it was thought erroneously that only homosexuals could get HIV. With this diagnosis, Ron watches as his life falls apart. Ron’s community (typical of other communities at the time) is extremely homophobic. Ron, having contracted the homosexual disease, is identified by his community as a homosexual even though in this movie he is not. This misconception costs Ron his friends, his job, and his home. The doctors have given him only 1 month to live. But interestingly enough, Ron is not the type to give up. He researches HIV, and all the likely treatments out there. At the time in the U.S., AZT was the only drug out there to treat HIV, and it was in the FDA testing phase. Ron is dismayed at the fact that he couldn’t buy the treatment that would keep him alive. He first pays someone to steal the drugs for him, and when that supply dries up he goes to Mexico to a doctor who supposedly has a supply of the drug.
Dr. Vass, the Mexican doctor, does not have any AZT but he does a regiment for keeping Ron alive that includes vitamins and other drugs. Ron, mad at the way the medical community has treated him, decides to help other people get his drug regiment while making a profit at it as well. He sees an article about what is called a Buyer’s club in the newspaper, and decides to start his own. He calls it the Dallas Buyer’s club. How it works is that you buy a membership to the club and they send you the drugs as part of the membership. Therefore, you are buying a club membership not the drugs, which help skirt around the current law. Ron begins to buy drugs from all over the world to provide to his customers in Dallas. Along the way he makes the FDA mad, and they encourage the DEA to confiscate his drugs many times to put him out of business. However, he keeps on trucking along, trying to keep himself and others alive. How does it all turn out? You will have to see the movie to find out.
From what I have read, the writers of this movie have taken quite a few liberties with Ron’s actual story, and many are also concerned with the way that the LGBT communities are shown in this film. Especially in terms of how Ron treats Rayon (a transsexual that goes into business with Ron). The LGBT could have been portrayed more sympathetically, and in fact Ron is still violently homophobic throughout the film despite the fact that they are his primary clients. However, what it does remind us is that any one can get HIV. That it is not a disease that is specific to a particular community. And that there is a lot of discrimination against the LGBT community that still exists today. It also asks you to take a good look at the FDA and their regulations, and at Doctors and what they are doing to your body when they treat you. Modern medicine is great and I am all for it, but doctors are not infallible and they don’t always have the right answers. These are all serious and provoking ideas that are worthy of a Best Picture Nominee.
The acting was great in this film. When you see Matthew McConaughey on the screen for the first time as Ron, you can’t believe it is him until you hear that signature voice. He did such a great job in this role. You cease to see Matthew and just see Ron. I think he is deserving of the Oscar for this role. Jared Leto is perfect as Rayon. What a great performance. I didn’t know it was Jared Leto until I saw the credits. He also disappears into his character so that all you see is Rayon and not Jared Leto. That is the mark of excellent acting when you see and believe in the character and not the actor. He also deserves the best supporting actor Oscar. Jennifer Garner is good as the doctor with a heart, Eve, who is torn between her heart and her duty as a doctor. She would like to help these people but is tied up by the rules and regulations that her job sets for her. Denis O’Hare plays Dr. Sevard, which is the mean doctor in this film. He seems to be out only for the money that the FDA will pay him to participate in the clinical trial. He doesn’t seem to care about his patients, and will not entertain any possible alternative treatments. Denis does a good job with the role. Michael O’Neill plays the evil FDA agent that seems set on taking Ron down, and shutting his business down even though he is helping people live. Michael has the look of a FDA agent and carries the role well. Griffin Dunne plays Dr. Vass who is the American doctor in Mexico who saves Ron, and helps him set the regiment of drugs that will keep him alive. And even though this character has a short screen time, I really enjoyed his character.
Overall, I thought this was a well-done movie. It reminds us of topics that we should still be talking about. AIDS is not gone; it just has seemed to slip from the worldview. We also need to be aware of the type of discrimination that the LGBT community has to contend with, and that is something as a community we should be ashamed of. Is Dallas Buyer’s Club deserving of the Best Picture Oscar, I don’t know. I haven’t seen the other five movies yet, but it was my favorite of the first four.