Unlike Director Dylan Mohan Gray’s hard-hitting documentary, “Fire in the Blood”, which was released in the Indian theaters last October, Dallas Buyers Club is a fascinating dramatisation of the same subject. It depicts how the medical profession, government and pharmaceutical giants in the US dragged their heels in promoting the expensive AZT and ignoring its toxic side effects and welfare of AIDS patients.
The film, written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, was inspired by an article that appeared in The Dallas Morning News in 1992. It is a straight-up portrait of a man who figured out a way to cling to life, longer than anyone expected. It is a great human story of strength, acceptance and adversity.
Set in 1985, it is the real life story of a Dallas electrician Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) who leads a reckless life. After a minor work accident at work, he lands up in a hospital, where a blood test reveals that he is infected with the HIV virus and is told that he would live for a maximum 30 days.
Shattered with this revelation, he responds violently with loathing bitterness to doctors Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), interpreting their diagnosis as an insult to his unrestrained heterosexual virility.
Shunned and ostracised by many of his old friends, he parties hard with hookers and drugs, weakening his immune system even further, until he develops AIDS. Being a go-getter, he first bribes a hospital janitor to slip him a supply of AZT, the only medication that was being trial-tested at that time by the FDA.
But when that supply dries up, and with his condition worsening, reality hits him hard. He realises that he needs to take stock of his life, so he crosses the border to Mexico, where an unlicensed American doctor (Griffin Dunne) tells him AZT is poisonous and suggests alternative treatment. The new treatment stabilizes Ron and he feels better. It also gives him the idea of an entrepreneurial opportunity.
So, in order to target a client base of gays and potential HIV patients, he partners with Rayon (Jared Leto) a drug-addicted transsexual who he meets in the hospital. Together, they start the “Dallas Buyers Club” with a $400 enrolment fee.
Ron circumvents FDA regulations by importing unlicensed drugs that he distributed “for free” through the club, which instead charged an “admission fee”, a loophole that meant that technically he wasn’t selling the medication. The operation was a scam, but the results were impressive.
McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof with deep sincerity. The physical as well as the emotional evolution of the character through the film is incredibly and spectacularly real. He shines as the despicable, selfish, racist, homophobic and equally excels as a caring and a likeable person.
He is ably supported by Jared Leto who as Rayon brings life and light moments to this otherwise gloomy story. He infuses the role with compassion and humanity balanced with equal measures of self-destruction.
The direction is passionate, though formulaic with decent production values. Vallee hits the crux of the story on the onset and ensures that the characters lead head on and they never digress.
What’s more? The film does not advocate self-medication or glorify Ron Woodroof’s demeanour. It just simply lays the cards on the table. This film is worth a watch.
Film: Dallas Buyers Club; Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Michael O’Neill, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne, Kevin Rankin, Donna Duplantier and Deneen Tyler; Director: Jean-Marc Vallee.
IANS Rating: ***1/2
By Troy Ribeiro