My favorite way, and the only way I can think of, to properly describe Dallas Buyers Club is that it’s a wonderful combination of Schindler’s List, Philadelphia, and The People vs. Larry Flynt. And yet, it’s entirely its own film. You have a self-interested man whose business leads him to empathize with and protect victims of an unjust world. You have a bigot, whose job forces him to interact with the very people he discriminates against, and who learns to consider these people as one of his own. Finally you have a man with a sizable ego who isn’t afraid to take on the government when they interfere with his ability to do his job.
The film is inspired by the true story of a man named Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey); an electrician, a con-artist, and a bigot, who discovers he has HIV and eventually AIDS. Ron ends up in a hospital where he is diagnosed and told he has thirty days left to live. Instead of taking it lying down and just accepting his fate, Ron begins to smuggle a new experimental drug, AZT, out of the hospital and self-medicates. This turns out to be a mistake, for though the drug helps to destroy HIV, it also destroys the rest of the individual from the inside out. Ron ends up in Mexico where he meets a former doctor who’s been treating HIV and AIDS patients by giving them cocktails that treat the symptoms instead of attacking the virus directly. Ron decides to make money by selling the drugs he can get from Mexico in the United States, except he needs to do so legally. So enters, the Dallas Buyers Club. As Ron explains to his customers and the cops who won’t leave him alone, he’s not selling the drugs to anyone, he’s giving them away for free to members of his club. He does however charge club members a fee of $400 per month. Ron teams up with Rayon (Jared Leto), another HIV patient, as they go off on this business venture while fighting the government at every step. They also get some help from Eve (Jennifer Garner) a doctor who is wary of the AZT drug and a quasi-love interest for Ron.
McConaughey pulls off one of the best acting performances of the year in this role. He brilliantly portrays a man who slowly makes his way through all the steps of culture shock as he becomes immersed in a culture of people he hates and is disgusted by. Hours after seeing the film, two scenes are so vividly still burned in my memory that so perfectly portray this. In this first, Ron awakens in the hospital after overmedicating on AZT, where he meets Rayon for the first time. Ron is instantly hostile towards Rayon and wants nothing more than for Rayon to go back to his own bed and shut up. Out of the blue Rayon suggests that they play cards, which Ron hesitantly accepts only when Rayon agrees that they do some gambling. This entire interaction is quite something. You have moments during their first meeting where you see Ron start to forget that he doesn’t like Rayon because he’s gay and talks to him like he would with anyone else. Then suddenly something would click and he’d go back to his insults and homophobic slurs. McConaughey so beautifully plays this scene, showing us how difficult it is for someone to maintain hatred towards another person when the hatred is based on nothing more than a negative predisposition to a specific group of people. This is where we get a lot of hints of Denzel Washington’s character in Philadelphia, where he played a lawyer that could not be more uncomfortable around gay people at the start of his business relationship with Tom Hanks’ character.
The second scene that really sticks out for me occurs in a super market. Ron is food shopping and meets one of his former, bigoted friends, T.J (Kevin Rankin). The last time Ron saw T.J, T.J and a group of friends ran Ron out of his former life once they discovered he had HIV. They insulted him, called him a fag, and locked him out of his own home. Now they meet again many months later, and T.J attempts to make small talk by pointing out all the”fags” hanging around the super market today, at which point Rayon approaches and introduces himself. When T.J refuses to shake Rayon’s hand, Ron grabs him from behind in a choke hold and forces him to shake Rayon’s hand properly before letting go of him. When Rayon looks at Ron glowingly for what he did, Ron just shrugs it off like he doesn’t understand what the big deal was. This is the first scene where McConaughey really shows us how far Ron has come as a character from the start of the film. With no second thought Ron jumped to protect his friend’s honor, something that he may not have even done for one of his former friends with the way he was at the start of the film. He didn’t just stop being a bigot, he matured as a human being and started caring about people other than himself.
Dallas Buyers Club is a wonderful mix of different pieces of movies all movie goers love, but adds something that’s entirely its own, unique and original. Overall, it probably isn’t my favorite movie of the year. Some characters are too stereotypical for my liking, and Garner’s performance is flat and uninspired. But for its few flaws, it has too many good things to miss. So go out and enjoy this cocktail of a film.