The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>Dallas Buyer's Club</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Dallas Buyer's Club

A homophobic AIDS victim illegally sells unapproved medicine to other victims of the disease.

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts, Griffin Dunne

In 1985, Dallas rodeo rider Ron Woodruff (McConaughey) is told by doctors he has a month left to live as he has contracted the AIDS virus from engaging in unprotected sex with drug users. Ron applies to become a test case for AZT, a new drug that claims to prolong the life of AIDS, but is turned down. Instead, he heads to a Mexican clinic, run by an American doctor whose US licence was revoked. There he purchases illegal medicines that haven't been approved North of the border, and with the help of Rayon (Leto), a transgender AIDS patient he met in hospital, Ron begins to smuggle the drugs across the border and sell them to AIDS victims.
Dallas Buyer's Club may technically be an independent production but in every other aspect it's as Hollywood as it could be. Mainstream American cinema has always struggled with depicting minority groups while striving for as large an audience as possible. Hollywood's way around this has been to put mainstream characters at the forefront. This is why the biggest movie about the holocaust (Schindler's List) doesn't feature a Jewish lead character but a white christian hero figure. Movies about the civil rights era usually prefer to focus on the contribution made by white characters to the struggle. We've seen this in films like Mississippi Burning, Ghosts of Mississippi and The Help yet we still haven't seen a movie based on the work of Martin Luther King. Last year's flop The Lone Ranger featured Johnny Depp playing a Native American
It seems American cinema is as uncomfortable dealing with homosexuals as it is Jews, blacks and Native Americans, and so we get Dallas Buyer's Club, a "true" story about a subject that overwhelmingly affected the gay community yet has a straight lead character, and a "comically" homophobic one at that.
The approach taken to the story by director Jean-Marc Vallée and writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack opts for dramatic shortcuts at every turn. The basic set-up - pairing an outspoken homophobe with a transgender woman / transvestite man (the distinction is never made entirely clear and the character is purely a creation of the film-makers) - sounds like the most dated seventies sitcom imaginable. 20 years ago we saw a similar dynamic in Philadelphia, which paired an outspoken homophobic lawyer (Denzel Washington) with a gay client (Tom Hanks). 
Your ability to appreciate Dallas Buyer's Club will rest largely on how much of a conspiracy theorist you are. If you're the kind of person that wears a tinfoil hat to stop the government stealing your thoughts you'll likely see Woodruff as some sort of Messianic figure. The film-makers certainly do. In one particularly cringe-worthy scene McConaughey adopts a crucifixion pose. Most of us, however, will see Woodruff as someone who exploited vulnerable people to make a quick buck.
Throughout the film we're constantly told of the ill effects of the FDA approved AZT, simply because it's a cheap way to create false drama. I'm always dubious of anyone who paints the medical profession as the villain and throughout the movie I just couldn't buy the conspiracy theory I was being asked to swallow. My suspicions were confirmed when at the film's conclusion a title card informs us that AZT did in fact have positive results (it was Woodruff's cocaine use that affected his health), confirming I had indeed just watched a movie about someone who jeopardized lives by selling dodgy black market drugs.
It may at this point seem like I hated Dallas Buyer's Club but the uncomfortable truth is that it's a quite entertaining film, thanks mainly to the outstanding central performances of McConaughey and Leto. I'm not saying avoid Dallas Buyer's Club, but be aware you're being spun a false yarn, and leave the tinfoil hat at home.

Eric Hillis