Based on a true story, the film is set in the dark days of the initial AIDS epidemic in the United States, when the medical establishment -- and the culture at large -- had barely even acknowledged the crisis. As the film begins, the only U.S. government-approved treatment is the controversial drug AZT, a highly toxic substance that patients could only get to via experimental drug trials.
A dedicated Texas outlaw, Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) -- aggressively heterosexual and casually homophobic -- is stunned to discover he's contracted AIDS from a hooker. Ron isn't interested in rules or regulatory oversight, so he takes his treatment into his own hands. He begins by bribing a hospital orderly for AZT, but soon expands his operation when he meets others in the AIDS community and sees a market opportunity.
Soon Ron and his collaborators are running a complex smuggling operation, sneaking in non-approved drugs and supplements from Mexico, then overseas. Ron's in it for the money -- he sells the medicine to those in need by way of a gray-market subscription service that soon attracts the attention of authorities. This is the Dallas Buyers Club, and customers line up to get from Ron what they can't get at the clinic.
It's an inherently dramatic story, and the historical details here are fascinating. But director Jean-Marc Vallée keeps the film's focus on its people, particularly Ron and his business partner Rayon, a transgender addict who serves as Ron's envoy to the gay community. Rayon is played by Jared Leto in a startling performance that's made him a frontrunner for an Academy Award, as well.
Together, McConaughey and Leto create between their characters a complex relationship that's the heart of the film. Ron's redemptive arc from rageaholic homophobe to empathetic activist is necessarily predictable. But McConaughey doesn't get there the way you might expect, and the film never lapses into sentiment. Rail thin and scarily intense, McConaughey plays Ron as a man who never loses his brutal lust for life.
Leto, meanwhile, mischievously subverts drama queen stereotypes as the proud but damaged Rayon. Just beneath is a lifetime of tragedy, and there's an aching quality to each of Rayon's scenes that's utterly riveting.
The film never digs into the broader issues of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. (For that, check out the terrific documentary How to Survive a Plague) In story and tone, Dallas Buyers Club is in a category of its own, but it's also in the tradition of outlaw movies, with its story of defiant outsiders breaking rules on the fringes of society.
Extras: Deleted scenes and a short making-of feature.
Also New This Week:About Time tells the story of a young man who discovers he's inherited the ability to travel through time. Naturally, he uses his new ability to get back the girl he lost -- in this case, Rachel McAdams, loveable as always. The film is directed by Richard Curtis -- Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones' Diary, Notting Hill, etc. -- and if you liked those, you'll like this.
One of last year's best documentaries, the improbably joyful Blood Brother follows one young man's work with an Indian AIDS orphanage.
The action thriller Escape Plan co-stars veteran action heroes -- that's the polite term, right? -- Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as prisoners who must escape a maximum security facility. But alas! The prisoners aren't really prisoners, and the facility is not what it seems to be.
Paula Patton, Adam Brody, Djimon Hounsou and Taye Diggs star in the comedy Baggage Claim.
Owen Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Amy Poehler provide the voices for the animated family film Free Birds.
Justin Long (The Mac Guy) makes his screenwriting debut with the romantic comedy A Case of You, concerning love in the digital age. Co-starring Evan Rachel Wood, Peter Dinklage and Vince Vaughn.
Two resourceful Brooklyn kids are left to fend for themselves in The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, with Anthony Mackie, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Jennifer Hudson.
Gonzo journalism plus covert drug experiments plus H.P. Lovecraft equals Banshee Chapter, an intriguing low-budget horror movie in the found-footage vein.
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- Arts & Entertainment
- Matthew McConaughey
- Ron Woodroof
- Jared Leto