Movie review: Dallas Buyers Club is the ultimate test of human spirit

The Oscar-nominated film is the story of a homophobic AIDS patient (played by Matthew McConaughey). Throw in sex, nudity, profanity, drugs and violence, and you get an AIDS epidemic grounded by a resonant real-life story of struggle and survival.

movie reviews Updated: Feb 28, 2014 19:28 IST
Sanya Panwar
Sanya Panwar
Hindustan Times

The Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club finally hit Indian screens on Friday. The film charts one man's determination to stay alive against astounding odds.

In the shortest possible description, Dallas Buyers Club is the story of a homophobic AIDS patient who ends up smuggling medicines (played by best actor nominee Matthew McConaughey). Throw in sex, nudity, profanity, drugs and violence, and you get an AIDS epidemic that is not a happy-ending, but certainly tests the human spirit.

McConaughey stars as real-life party-hardy Texas cowboy and self-employed electrician Ron Woodroof, whose free-wheeling life was overturned in 1985 when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and given 30 days to live.

Spoilers ahead...

The story of an improbable hero

Dallas Buyers Club is grounded by a resonant real-life story of struggle and survival. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, the US was divided over how to combat the virus. Woodroof, was shunned and ostracized by many of his old friends and decided to take matters in his own hands, tracking down alternative treatments.

Dedicated doctor Eve (Jennifer Garner) and similarly-afflicted sufferer Rayon (Jared Leto) become his unlikely support system as he starts scouring the globe for treatment and peddling unapproved drugs to fellow patients throughout Texas.

Steven Rea, Inquirer Movie columnist and critic, says, "Though just about everything is right with Dallas Buyers Club, beginning with Matthew McConaughey's literally transformative portrayal, it's unlikely that business schools will be teaching the Ron Woodroof Plan anytime soon."

"As far as entrepreneurial success stories go, the story line isn't that bad: the doctors tell you, you have 30 days to live, and you set out to prove them wrong - becoming a cash-rich drug dispenser and patients'-rights advocate in the process," he adds.


Understanding the stigma attached to AIDS and building a 'bond'

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée from a crackerjack script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club isn't exactly a feel-good movie, adds Rea. But Woodroof proves to be such a character - crude, lewd, a bigot, a high school dropout, and then a guy who throws himself into medical textbooks and research papers with a scholar's elan - that you can't help but love him.

"He's a con artist, a snake-charmer, working the angles with a wily grin. But he's also on a journey of self-discovery, learning to embrace humanity in all its shapes and sizes, colors and proclivities," says Rea.

Shunned by his drinking buddies and cohorts, Woodroof begins to understand the stigma attached to AIDS. In the hospital, he meets wild and wickedly funny Rayon (played by Leto), a transsexual also being treated for AIDS-related illness.

A wary Woodroof calls Rayon "Mister Man". They play cards. They talk. An oddball friendship is born - a friendship that harks back to that of another Texan, Joe Buck, and the squirrely street bum, Ratso Rizzo, he partners with in the late-'60s classic Midnight Cowboy.

According to Sarah Ward of Trespass Magazine, "Dallas Buyers Club offers an example of how films can be lifted by their performances. A stirring but standard and narratively, thematically selective feature is lifted by the efforts of Academy Award-nominated stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto."

Further praising the film, Ward says, "It introduces its protagonist in the heat of anonymous passion, presents his rallying cries of 'ain't nothing out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days' as a badge of humour, and shows the indulgence and arrogance that follows as a coping mechanism."

Actors impress: sensitive, dignified portrayal of survival

Talking about Woodroof's transformation into a crusader for access to life-extending pharmaceuticals, most critics agree, it stems more from self-preservation and not benevolence.

We've read the stories, seen the photographs: The actor lost close to 40 pounds to play Woodroof - and he's a chilling sight. Even as the film begins, when Woodroof is ostensibly healthy, scrapping around behind the bleachers in a clinch with not one, but two, rodeo groupies, he's not looking so great. By the time he is diagnosed, he's a scarecrow, and he turns progressively more gaunt and ghostly as the story goes on.

But Lisa Kennedy of The Denver Post credits Jared Leto for complementing McConaughey's vivid portrayal.

"Leto earns the audience's fierce attention; as Woodroof's transgender business partner, he is both showier and more subtle in its respective ways. In a part that radiates from appearances and rallies against poor dialogue, he perfects the surface and the sadness underneath; an evident supporting role, he never overwhelms nor stays in the shadows."

Critics stress that both actors cement their cinematic resurgence with challenging roles that have rightfully been awarded with ample accolades.

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Cast: Mathew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner
Running time: 1 hour 57 minutes

First Published: Feb 28, 2014 18:58 IST