In the first few seconds of “Dallas Buyers Club,” Ron Woodroof’s (Matthew MacConaughey) safely riding a broad at a rodeo while watching and betting on bull riders. But he might as well been riding a bull himself, or standing in front of Mother Nature’s horns.
With the way he bets and gambles, parties and engages in unprotected sex, some may think he had it coming. As any bull fighter secretly knows, “It’s not a matter of if you’ll get hurt. It’s a matter of when.”
And the when comes in the form of hard coughs that wrack his entire body. It’s accompanied by a faint high-pitched ringing that never ends.
“You’ve tested positive for HIV,” the doctor tells him when he’s knocked off his feet.
It’s 1985 in Dallas. HIV’s the gay disease: a social and physical death sentence.
Based on a true story, Jean-Marc Vallée’s “Dallas Buyer’s Club” chronicles one man’s battle against the AIDS epidemic. AZT had just been released for testing in select hospitals, but it’ll take another two years before the FDA formally approves the drug. Meanwhile, people are dying and willing to do anything to survive.
Enter Ron Woodroof, whose diagnosis takes him across the border to Mexico. There, he meets Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), who’s created an non-FDA approved HIV/AIDS supplement that Woodroof smuggles into the U.S. Teaming up with the transgendered Rayon (Jared Leto), Woodroof starts the Dallas Buyers Club, which distributes the unapproved formula for $400 memberships.
Although Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack’s Oscar-nominated screenplay’s somewhat formulaic (think “Moneyball” and “The Pursuit of Happyness”), “Dallas Buyer’s Club” succeeds because of its incredibly talented and committed cast. McConaughey — the normally tan Texas-native known for banging bongos while naked — lost 47 pounds and shut himself in for months in order to appear pale and sickly. Leto stopped eating, lost 40 pounds and lived as his character, Rayon.
The transformations paid off, lending to heartbreaking performances and earning both actors a much deserved Golden Globe and place on this year’s shortlist of Oscar nominees.
McConaughey’s his charming, Southern self, calling co-star Jennifer Garner (who plays a doctor who treats HIV/AIDS patients) “Nurse Ratched” one minute and giving her a painting of wildflowers in the next.
And Leto’s playful performance as the beautiful and optimistic Rayon keeps the film from becoming too depressing.
When the two begin working together, the homophobic Ron curses and threatens Rayon if she ever calls him Ronnie or hangs Boy George posters again. This initially antagonistic relationship (and the teasing banter that accompany it) provides some humor in this otherwise elegiac story.
“Been looking for you, Lonestar,” Rayon teases Ron in another scene.
“You know I could have killed ya,” Ron answers.
Rayon’s levity is refreshing in a film about AIDS.
Because deep down you know it’s not a matter of if they’ll die. It’s when.
“Dallas Buyer’s Club” was directed by Canadian Jean-Marc Vallée and written by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack. McConaughey and Leto won best actor and best supporting actor at the 2014 Golden Globes. The film was also nominated for best actor, best supporting actor, best original screenplay, best achievement in film editing, best makeup and best picture of the year in the 2014 Academy Awards.