Dallas Buyers Club received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, Best Original Story, Best Film Editing, and Best Makeup & Hairstyling.
Update: Won Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto; Won Best Makeup & Hairstyling; Won Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey
In 1985 Rock Hudson, the famed actor, learned that he had the HIV virus that births AIDS. Rumors abound quickly (and they still do) that Hudson was homosexual, which was the cause of the disease. As Dallas Buyer’s Club opens, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is playing cards in a rodeo locker room. Their playing board is a newspaper with the Hudson story.
This is the kind of details that director Jean-Marc Vallée provides in this film. At times they are so subtle that one may miss them in the first viewing. Nevertheless, it is the attention to details that make this film Oscar worthy. The film has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Leading Actor (Matthew McConaughey) and Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto).
McConaughey and Leto both put their bodies through extreme measures to portray their HIV positive characters. The drastic amount of weight loss for a character can go one of two ways. It can be a huge distraction from the performance of the actor, or it can enhance the actor’s portrayal making the performance even more powerful. Here, McConaughey and Leto are the latter. The drastic weight loss only enhances the powerful performance they give, winning both actors Golden Globes.
In the scene where they are playing cards on Rock Hudson’s story in the newspaper, Ron makes every inappropriate comment possible about Hudson and his sexuality. The very first scene has Ron having sex with a woman at the rodeo. Right out of the gate, we know that this rodeo rider is arrogant and homophobic. He is fueled by cigarettes, liquor, and occasionally speed or coke. In every sense of the word, Ron Woodroof is the stereotypical, straight, white male.
Ron’s life, attitude, and story changes after an electrical accident at a Texas oil field. The doctors at the hospital report to him that he is HIV+. He is given 30 days to live. Ron cannot, and will not, accept this news. He is not Rock Hudson. His attitude, which was so common in the 1980s, was that if he was straight, he could not have AIDS. It takes some time before Ron accepts his reality, and is able to recall that he most likely contracted the disease when having an unprotected sexual encounter with two women at the rodeo, and one them was heavily using drugs.
Once accepting his disease, he works out a deal with a hospital orderly to get the new drug AZT. When that option is no longer one, Ron makes a trip to Mexico where a former American doctor is practicing medicine. It is there that Ron learns how dangerous AZT can be. And it is when we learn that the big pharmaceutical companies are using the epidemic to push AZT, even though it does not work as they say it does. Jennifer Gardner gives a mediocre performance as Dr. Eve Saks, who will be the only doctor in the Dallas hospital who stands up against the pharmaceutical push of the drug. It is a strong character, who cares deeply for her patients and the only one brave enough and bold enough to stand up to big pharmaceutical. Yet, Gardner’s performance of this strong character is limp at best.
Ron takes his health care into his own hands. He dresses up as a cancer stricken priest to smuggle drugs into the United States. He attempts to sell the drugs to homosexual men, but his arrogance and attitude get in the way. He meets Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual who is able to help Ron get in with the community. Ron’s friendship with Rayon is what breaks down Ron’s arrogance and attitude toward those who are different from him. It is through this relationship that Ron has his self-awakening moment. He stands up for Rayon in the grocery store when one of his former co-workers and friends makes unnecessary remarks to Rayon. Ron discovers his bravery and boldness.
Together, Rayon and Ron create a co-op called the Dallas Buyer’s Club. Individuals who are looking for better drugs for HIV and AIDS buy a membership into the Club that then gives them free medications. It was modeled after similar Clubs in other states. The pharmaceutical drugs that are being used, are not helping the patients. The medications that Ron brings in from all over the world, make a difference. Neither of them cure.
It is hard to say who redeems who in this film. Rayon’s presence in Ron’s life changes Ron for the better. Unfortunately, while the same can be true about Ron’s presence in Rayon’s life, the change is not quite the same. While Ron changes his behaviors (and attitudes), Rayon continues to use recreational drugs. Ron makes the commitment to change, Rayon struggles with what that commitment looks like.
As blogger Randall Golden pointed out in his post about the film, there is a very important message, subtle, but important after the end credits:
AIDS is not over. Access to treatment could save more lives.
AIDS is one of the greatest epidemics of our time. There are people who are still being mistreated, not getting access to appropriate medications, and who are being treated as outsiders. The call by Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves is such an important call. The men and women all around the world who are suffering from HIV and AIDS deserve our love. Just as Jesus had bravery and boldness to touch the leper, may we who claim Christ as Lord have the same bravery and boldness to touch those with AIDS.