Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O'Hare, Steve Zahn, Griffin Dunne

Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club

'God, AIDS is a worry. It's a disease you get from having sex. Loads of people are dying – it's horrible.'

This is what I wrote in my diary in 1985. It appears that, even at age 12, I was more clued up about AIDS than Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey). When sexist, homophobic rodeo hustler Ron is diagnosed with the killer virus, he assumes the hospital has mixed up the blood samples. He's not a 'faggot' – how can he have AIDS? Yet, threatened with only thirty days to live, he starts educating himself pretty darned fast, at the same time finding himself at the sharp end of treatment he'd probably have meted out himself had the cowboy boot been on the other foot: fired from his job, evicted from his trailer, spurned by his former friends, he's suddenly alone. What comes around, goes around, it seems, and boy does it come round with a vengeance.

But for all his faults, Ron is not a quitter. Now a home-spun expert in experimental AIDS drugs, he bribes a hospital orderly to supply him with the trial anti-viral AZT and, mixing it with cocaine, meth-amphetamine and copious amounts of bourbon, he almost kills himself. AZT, he decides, is deadly, so it's off to Mexico, where he discovers that a blend of vitamins and protein supplements can ease his symptoms and prolong his life. The fly in the ointment? The drugs are not approved by the FDA.

Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club

Again, this doesn't stop Ron, who begins buying up unapproved drugs from around the world and selling them on to fellow AIDS patients back home: welcome to the Dallas Buyers Club.

All in all, this is an odd sort of movie. Generally, misogynistic, gay bashing drug dealers don't make Hollywood heroes, even if they are played by the charismatic skeleton of Matthew McConaughey. Yet here, Ron is portrayed as the lone, battling everyman standing up to the giant, powerful, faceless state, helping the sick and the dying – for a fee.

This still doesn't make him a terribly likeable hero, however – it's up to his new friend and business partner, flamboyant, Marc Bolan-obsessed transvestite Rayon (Jared Leto – Cillian Murphy must have been busy) to provide, the warm, emotional heart required to engage our sympathies.

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club

The messages of the film are mixed too: throughout the story, AZT is decried as a toxic poison, yet a note on the screen at the end coughs into its sleeve that actually in lower doses it's since helped thousands of patients. It's also slightly jarring that the story of the buyers clubs – which sprang up all over the United States, generally run as co-operatives by the gay community – is told through the eyes of a rightwing, racist redneck.

The film humanises a disease that continues to be shrouded in myth and judgmental stigma, yet makes it looks as if everyone in America in the mid '80s who wasn't a doctor or federal agent was dying of it, with some hospital sequences resembling scenes from a zombie apocalypse, lesion-covered patients dying on gurneys in corridors.

That said, it's a very interesting, engaging film, with knockout performances from Leto and McConaughey, both showing that Robert De Niro/Christian Bale physical commitment to their roles that's almost scary. I really hope that right now they're both tucking into a big plate of chips.

Like its central protagonist, Dallas Buyers Club sells itself well, but just as Ron's motivation confuses altruism with financial gain, so the film's messages seem a little muddy, and much as I enjoyed it, I'm not sure I'm 100 per cent sold.

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