By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Redneck Ron Woodruff was a Texas cowboy, an eruptive electrician and rodeo bull rider who refused to accept his death sentence.
He was also a wildly promiscuous heterosexual and an unapologetic homophobe who was, in 1986, diagnosed with HIV/Aids (as a result of sex with a female drug user) and given a month to live.
When he realized that the antiviral drug he was taking, AZT, the only FDA-approved drug available in the US, had him on death’s doorstep, he started seeking illegal meds from elsewhere, otherwise known as Mexico.
That gave him the idea to circumvent the legal system and launch a thriving business smuggling drugs into the country and start the titular organization, which would give these drugs to AIDS patients (rather than having them purchase them directly and illegally) who paid a reasonable monthly fee as an alternative to the treatment triumvirate of doctors, hospitals, and AZT.
Dallas Buyers Club is the loosely-based true story of stubbornly resourceful Woodruff’s struggle to survive as an AIDS patient, his battle to stay in business once the FDA and Big Pharma come after him, and his surprising and almost inadvertent redemption.
Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria, Café de Flore) and his screenwriters, Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, convincingly re-create the period in their oblique take on the AIDS crisis and get to the heart of the matter quickly. And they seem to go out of their way to avoid sentimentality, which renders the film less cathartic than it might have been. but more reportorially honest as well.
Matthew McConaughey is brilliant in the role and not because of his physical transformation: he lost nearly 40 pounds for the role and is nearly unrecognizable. What registers indelibly is his beautifully calibrated transformation from bigoted druggie to driven entrepreneur to empathic friend.
Don’t be surprised by a Best Actor Oscar nomination for an actor who has reinvented himself in recent years and graduated from a shirtless romcom poster boy easy to dismiss (How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, The Wedding Planner, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, Failure to Launch) to a scintillating character actor who’s impossible to ignore (The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike, Bernie, Mud).
And Jared Leto, in his first film in six years, provides splendid support as Rayon, the saintly and amusing transgender druggie prostitute whom Woodruff met as his hospital roommate and who became his business colleague and minority partner as a liaison to the gay community, while Jennifer Garner contributes welcome warmth in a supporting role as a compassionate doctor who becomes an advocate.
So we’ll smuggle 3 stars out of 4 for the gritty and dour real-life drug drama, Dallas Buyers Club. McConaughey’s sellin’ and we’re buyin’.