“Dallas Buyers Club” — a film review by Gary Chew
It’s not quite like Sam Peckinpah’s “Ride the High Country” or Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain.” But Jean-Marc Vallée‘s “Dallas Buyers Club” also dares to mess with “the cowboy” mentality against — what a cowboy, himself, might refer to as — being a “girlie-boy.” And the irony of bringing these two cultures of male existence together in a movie gives a solid platform on which to suggest how a life might be better lived whether heterosexual, homosexual — male or female.
Matthew McConaughey is brilliant in the role of Ron Woodroof, a real person who died in 1992. Woodroof was a ordinary electrician living in Dallas. Ron was also a rodeo bull rider. If you ever wanted meet an authentic, butt-kicking, booze-swilling, coke-snorting redneck from Texas, Ron Woodroof would’ve been your man. And what’s more, he wore a big hat.
To play Ron Woodroof, McConaughey has backed off two or three notches from his remarkable turn in the title role lead of a recent, grueling but excellent NC-17 picture called “Killer Joe.” Nobody does this sort of character better these days; back when, it was Jack Palance and Richard Widmark who were best at it.
Early on in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Ron is diagnosed HIV-positive. Back in the early 80’s he would’ve been one the last guys on earth you’d expect to be stricken with the condition. Ron’s as skinny as a rail and coughs heavily between deep drags when chain smoking as well as riding bulls, boozing heavily and doing drugs and threesomes with female prostitutes.
First he thinks the physician is kidding him about the diagnosis or mistaken. Then it’s just sheer rage he has for all the medical people around him, including Eve Saks, an M.D. played by Jennifer Garner.
After a regimen of AZT, Ron researches his malady and finds that AZT is very injurious to the AIDS virus, yes … but just about everything else in his body as well. On further study, he learns there are other drugs, or ones being developed, to prolong the lifespan of HIV-positive patients. Initially, the doctors have given Ron 30 days to live.
The Texas-born misogynistic electrician is not far from being a full blown anarchist in terms of life style, so when the FDA and big government (at large) make it difficult for Ron to get the medicine he wants and needs to delay the gloomy outcome, his bullheaded personality steps up to the task Texas style.
Dr. Saks is sympathetic with Ron, but knows that current law is against him. She incurs more of his wrath. Garner looks perfectly matched to Eve’s character.
Eventually Ron is taking trips to Mexico for other drugs that can extend his life but not approved by the FDA. His strategies for smuggling them back across the border are imaginative and curiously comic.
The buyers club is born … so, in spite of the fact Ron is a raging homophobic, he goes into business with an HIV-positive man who dresses and lives as a female. Jared Leto will likely be part of this winter’s Oscar festivities for his supporting role as this androgynous young man called Rayon. And there’s already “statue buzz” for McConaughey too.
Needless to say, Rayon and Ron don’t get along, but both do want to prolong their own lives .. and any other HIV-positive people. It’s also how they make a living — running their buyers club. One could say that Ron has taken the bull by the horns to get the meds he needs, as well as for Rayon and anybody else. Turns out there are lots of Texans in the movie who do.
If there’s any beauty in “Dallas Buyers Club” it’s how having AIDS gives real purpose to Ron’s life, yet he seems to not even be conscious of that; he’s still that rough-house, volatile, foul-mouthed cowboy, but with an attitude signaling he’s acquired the ability to show respect, and care for others — whether they’re gay or not.
Be more than just watchful when McConaughey and Garner play their scene having a nice, quiet dinner together in a fancy Dallas restaurant. The volumes it speaks about Ron’s change in demeanor toward females is moving — and thank goodness, not cheesy.
So I think, perhaps, a shout out should go to Jean-Marc Vallée for crafting “Dallas Buyers Club” in much the spirit of other cowboys seen in “Ride The High Country” and “Brokeback Mountain.”