Free Press Journal

Dallas Buyers Club: Fact-based compassionate AIDS drama

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Film: Dallas Buyers Club

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto, Denis O’Hare, Steve Zahn, Kevin Rankin, Griffin Dunne

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée


Dylan Mohan Gray’s documentary Fire in the Blood tells the story of how Western pharmaceutical companies and governments blocked access to low-cost AIDS drugs for Third world  countries causing  unnecessary deaths. Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallee working from a screenplay by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, shows how in America itself, the US Food and Drug Administration was extra cautious about approving new drugs in a time when the disease was ravaging victims and flummoxing society at large.

A fact-based dramatic feature, the film’s central character is Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey), a Texas rodeo cowboy who tests positive for HIV in 1985. He is not gay, but addicted to snorting drugs and having unprotected sex. Woodruff is reduced to skin and bone (six footer McConaughey shed 50 pounds for the role reminding me of Christian Bale who got corpulent for his role in American Hustle).

In the hospital, Woodruff finds sympathy in the shape of Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) and a matter-of-fact response from her male colleague who only sees the HIV positive patients as guinea pigs. Woodruff is given 30 days at live and livid with homophobic rage, he storms off. His red-neck, trailer park buddies are equally homophobic and shun him thinking he is “queer.”

But Woodruff is made of sterner stuff and goes the extra mile to be part of experimental treatments south of the border, that is, Mexico. He, who was a poorly educated cowboy, now devours books and articles on fighting AIDS and starts up an ingenious Club which entitles the members to avail of the drugs. How he overcomes all odds (from the FDA and IRS to prejudice) forms the heart of this engaging movie which sadly, dare I say it, seems to endorse unhealthy behaviours.

It is good to see how Woodruff changes from being a bigot in a wonderful scene where he stands up for a drugs-addicted transvestite and fellow AIDS patient named Rayon (Jared Leto) who sells his body to pay for his addiction. It is not so edifying to see him masquerading as a priest to smuggle drugs across the border. Or watch him continue to engage in drink and drugs. Sexual promiscuity? I don’t recall seeing him “indulge” any more. The film also fails to take note of the HIV infected who went on a revenge-driven spree to infect the unsuspecting.

Even so, we are called to be compassionate and that we shall or should be. But is it too much to expect good sense and sensibility such as refraining from drugs or sex with multiple homosexual /bi-sexual partners – the easiest way of contracting the HIV virus? (71 %) Yes, I suppose it is too much to expect. After all, the human condition can be so sadly pathetic. So pathetically sad.

ronitatorcato@gmail.com