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Dallas Buyers Club

The story of a man who wanted to die with his boots on

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. <<Focus Features>>

A few lines of cocaine, a three-way with rodeo groupies and a belt or two of whiskey is how Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey: Mud) liked to start his mornings. Before long, hard living and hard fighting make a mess of this bull rider.
    In hospital after an accident, he learns he’s been infected with HIV, a relatively new disease in 1985. Doctors offer counseling and a death sentence of 30 days. Incensed at the suggestion that he has a disease of gay people, Ron does what he does best: make an ugly scene and go on a bender.
    Hung over and feeling his symptoms worsen, he is spurred into action. Researching the disease, he learns that the only drug on the American market, AZT, is restricted to trials. He bribes hospital janitors to sneak him the potentially life-saving pills, which he takes with as much alcohol and cocaine as he can down.
    He ends up desperate and sicker than ever in a Mexican hospital, where he learns the truth about AZT: In the doses recommended, the drug is toxic and often lethal. A sympathetic doctor helps him detox and teaches him about promising, non-toxic meds the FDA has yet to approve.
    Never one to pass up an opportunity for quick cash, Ron loads up his car, crosses the border and sells the drugs to the gay community of Dallas.
    It’s hard going at first, as Ron is a bigot who can’t control his mouth. When he teams up with drag queen Rayon (Jared Leto: Mr. Nobody), his business improves. Soon Ron is running the Dallas Buyers Club, which offers non-FDA-approved treatments for AIDS and HIV.
    Dallas Buyers Club frustrates and fascinates. The script never quite matches the strength of the performances. Plotlines come and go, a love-interest doctor is shoe-horned in and director Jean-Marc Vallée (Clare de Flore) doesn’t show us how awful it would have been to be infected with AIDS in 1980s’ Texas. For background on the subject, consider Netflixing the excellent documentary How to Survive A Plague.
    In spite of pacing and plotting flaws, the winning performances of McConaughey and Leto save the film from disaster. McConaughey, who is experiencing a career renaissance, is clearly hoping for awards with this movie. He has a shot: To inhabit the role of Ron, he lost an immense amount of weight and offers surprising emotive range. Gone is the McConaughey of the easy smile and well-oiled abs. Ron is a larger-than-life character who feels real. His brash bravado and bull-in-a-china-shop nature work with McConaughey’s innate charm to make Ron a deeply flawed but ultimately likeable character.
    Though McConaughey is clearly the headliner, Leto steals the show. As Rayon, a junkie drag queen who becomes Ron’s girl Friday, Leto is all sass and flirt. He allows you glimpses of a dark past beneath Rayon’s armor. It’s heartbreaking to watch her deteriorate in body and in spirit as she fights her disease.
    With great performances and touching subject matter, Dallas Buyers Club is a thought-provoking look into recent history.

Good Drama • R • 117 mins.