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USA 2013
Directed by
Jean-Marc Vallée
117 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars

Dallas Buyers Club

Synopsis: Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), an electrician and dodgy bookmaker, discovers that he has AIDS. It’s 1985 and experimental treatments are just beginning. When all his hustling fails to get him access to the drugs being tested at his local hospital, he heads to Mexico and discovers a combination of treatments that give him quality of life. Unfortunately they’re not approved in the US government. So he starts smuggling them in.

This is an incredible story, but it takes its own sweet time getting to it. At least, that’s how it felt to me. I was fidgeting for the first 30 minutes or so as the characters are established, the situation developed, etc. etc. Almost none of that stuff  is particularly interesting and it’s a deadweight on what is an otherwise hugely engaging film. You’d think there’d be a more efficient way of getting into the story, but if there was, they didn’t film it. But trust me, it’s worth getting through, because the rest of the film is gold.

First off, McConaughey is as good as everyone has been saying. He’s doing amazing work lately and this is just another in a line of roles that shows he’s one of the best actors around when he wants to be. Ron is a complex character, he loves the women (except for that one time with that bloke), loves his drugs, his booze and so on. But once he finds out he’s HIV positive, things change a lot for him. His friends turn on him, he loses his job, and things look bleak. But being a hustler, he finds a way to turn his struggles to stay alive into a thriving business. It does put him in an interesting position though. Despite the fact he slept with a guy and got AIDS, he’s not well disposed towards the gay community. But once he’s found his magic bullet, he starts hitting HIV support groups and gay clubs, selling his wares. The fact that he’s so ruthless yet you find yourself admiring him is down to how genuinely charming Ron is as a person. And he’s selling something that works. And he does come to be far more of a humanitarian by the end, though still a cheekily grubby one.

There’s also an interesting thread running through the film examining the ethics of  Big Pharma as they scramble to find some kind of cure for AIDS. While Ron is out making money selling something effective, there’s a pharmaceutical company busily lobbying the FDA and bribing doctors to sign off on a drug that’s apparently making people worse, not better. The filmmakers do kind of shoot themselves in the foot though. They add in a title card at the end that points out that the drug did turn out to be part of an effective cocktail treatment, once the dose was significantly reduced. Full points for honest but if the corruption on display isn’t entirely mitigated but it does take out the sting a little.

In contrast to its commencement, Dallas Buyers Club wraps up a bit too quickly but the omission of cheap sentimentality, deathbed hugs and the like, is welcome. It’s a celebration of Ron’s life and the lives of those he helped and made a buck from. He’s a charmer and he’ll charm you too, even as he’s shaking you down for cash.




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