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IN SHORT: A story with tremendous potential defeated by its script.. [Not Rated. 116 minutes]
Every time a film dealing with AIDS comes to the big screen, I am always deluged by email seeking to determine if I have any "personal" interest that might have influenced the review. So ...
Cranky is straight. I've worked in the entertainment industry since 1978. I spent the mid 1980s in the acting community as a wannabee actor, enjoying the company of the beautiful women, since most of the beautiful men were dating each other. Then they started dying. By 1986, our conversations would always be the same: "Can you get it from breathing the same air?" or "If I touch a gay man in a scene rehearsal, will I get it?" or "Anyone you know die this week?"
It was sheer terror. I bailed. By September 15, 1988, when my neck was broken and I was set on the path that became Cranky, all but one of the gay men I had known had died from AIDS. So, just because HIV and AIDS have been brought under control, don't get stupid about sex. Use a condom. Now back to the purpose of this site. Movies.
Dallas Buyers Club is based on the story of a real life Texas cowboy; a cocaine fueled construction worker named Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), who takes women on two at a time and is more than happy to fling an "f" word about liberally, especially after the AIDS related death of actor Rock Hudson, reported in all the newspapers as his story begins. For those that are too young to know, Hudson was an uber-major movie star, and assumedly heterosexual. He romanced Doris Day in multiple movies on the big screen and Susan Saint James in a smash hit television series called MacMillan and Wife. Hudson's death revealed a sexual orientation that didn't jibe with his onscreen image. In Ron Woodroof's world, that made Rock Hudson just another . . . well . . . that other "f" word is the one that rhymes with "maggot."
From Woodroof's point of view, his cowboy lifestyle -- slugging down Jack Daniels, snorting lines of coke and bedding every biological form that has the proper female parts top and bottom, ("unprotected", of course) -- is a great lifestyle. Sex and Drugs and Honky-Tonk music are very good indeed <g>. On a work site, Woodroof is an electrician. The biggest sparks that fly in his hard hat life -- we apologize for that pun, which you'll understand when you see the film -- come from an exploding circuit breaker that puts him into Dallas' Mercy Hospital. There, a staff doctor Sevard (Denis O'Hare) and immunologist, doctor Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) deliver the news that blood tests have determined that Woodroof's body is infected with HIV. Thirty days and he'll be pushing up daisies.
Woodroof does not like the news. He does not like being lumped in with those people ... in 1985, AIDS was a "gay" disease. Being diagnosed was, like it or not, a pronouncement on one's lifestyle, one which hard core heterosexuals like Woodroof did not take kindly to. It's hard to say what bothers the man more: the fact that a death sentence has just been handed down; that his roommate in hospital is a flirtatious transsexual called Rayon (Jared Leto), or that all Ron's friends assume, post-diagnosis, that his sexual proclivities -- widely broadcast in the kind of way blue collar macho types like to proclaim -- are nothing but a cover for true homosexual preferences. They're not but all of those friends to turn on him with a vengeance.
Determined to beat the odds, Woodroof does his research in a local library. The nitty gritty of what AIDS is is compressed into a sentence or two and the visuals of a headline in TIME Magazine. We give props to director Jean-Marc Vallée for that neat bit of educational compression, which accompanies the film's story turn as the Food and Drug Administration steps in to block just about every treatment for a disease which has, apparently, run rampant in the gay community since 1981. (Again, the picture is set in 1985). Ron finds that his only possible way to find "alternative" treatments to prolong life... the film carefully counts the days up from one to seven, eight, twenty and then twenty-eight.
Ron's only alternative? Cross the border into Mexico, where unlicensed clinics treat an HIV ravaged horde. There, a disgraced American doctor (Griffen Dunne) runs a clinic that treats AIDS victims with a whole lot of vitamins and something called Peptide T. It is a treatment that while, individually legal in the USA, is illegal if prescribed to fight HIV. But it seems to work for Ron. So . . . since he can't sell the "treatment" as such, Woodroof creates the "Dallas Buyers Club," an exclusive to AIDS patients social club (sic) that dispenses bags of vitamins etcetera for free, as a benefit of membership. Each member in turn forks over a $400 per month membership dues payment. That's legal. That's something that, apparently, has been done in one or two other States. That is also something the FDA of the Federal government comes down on with all the legal force that it can muster. Woodroof fights back.
One man versus the government. That's a story. Dallas Buyers Club prefers to focus on the individual human relationships and battles that exist outside that battle. Woodroof and his new "business partner" Rayon -- the victims who buy the "not-a-treatment" have to come from somewhere and Rayon has a lot of friends -- and Woodroof's transformation from homophobe to human being; government run trials of a drug called AZT, the first drug developed to battle the disease and a connection between Woodroof and doctor Saks, who supervises the double blind study; the government versus desperate, dying men; and, of course, all the personal situations in Woodroof's life that we've mentioned in passing. Everything is too evenly balanced against each other. Nothing comes to dominate the story and force our attention to it. Nothing gives the film a point.
We may have, actually, given it that point in the description. Perhaps Dallas Buyers Club will be a more affecting sit for any of you who haven't known anyone affected by the disease. We will say that its construction will make many of us critics add the film to "best of" lists, or at least put it into major consideration. Yours Cranky puts the film into consideration with this note: We know what to expect of Matthew McConaughey, and he delivers. The bigger consideration? We haven't seen an actor in a supporting role as good as Jared Leto is in Dallas Buyers Club, in a very long time. He nearly steals the movie -- but doesn't. That's the absolute definition of what his characters "place" is.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dallas Buyers Club, he would have paid . . .
Yes, Ron Woodruff did better than thirty days of survival. If he didn't there wouldn't be a movie to be made about it. We could tell you by how long but that violates our "don't give away the Third Act ending" rule. You'll have to do the math yourself.
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