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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Film looks into US’s 1980s AIDS struggles

    Voltage Pictures

    From what I’ve read, “Dallas Buyers Club” seems to be a dark horse in this year’s awards season. However, this film has proven to be a must-see that is equal parts funny, emotional, informative and compelling, about a time in the U.S. when AIDS and its treatments were woefully misunderstood.

    The film is based on the real-life story of Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey). It’s Dallas 1985, and Ron is a blue-collar electrician as well as a rodeo con artist. He’s a homophobe, a drug addict and a playboy, and one too many cases of not wrapping it up lead to a diagnosis of HIV for him. With supposedly a month left to live and his health quickly failing, he begins taking azidothymidine, or AZT. However, the drug takes an alarming toll on him, and he learns that AZT is dangerous.

    This Texas cowboy then becomes a global businessman as he ventures to Israel, Japan, Mexico and the Netherlands, looking for drugs that will combat AIDS. Because the Food and Drug Administration is in bed with big pharmaceutical companies, AZT is the only FDA-approved drug, so Ron must smuggle the proteins and vitamins across international borders. Back in Dallas, he sets up the Dallas Buyers Club, where people can purchase a “membership” for access to these illegal treatments. Ron combats the hospital, the FDA and pharmaceutical companies with the help of two unusual accomplices: Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender person Ron met in the hospital who has also been diagnosed with HIV, and Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), a doctor who finds herself at a moral crossroads when faced with undeniable proof that AZT is killing her patients.

    It amazes me how, just when I’m absolutely positive I’ve seen the finest lead acting performance of the year, my certainty is completely thrown into question. Michael B. Jordan in “Fruitvale Station,” Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave” and Bruce Dern in “Nebraska” have all made me reconsider who would get my vote for the Academy Award for Actor in a Leading Role.

    McConaughey threw a wrench into my plans with his Southern drawl and phenomenal performance as Ron. And his performance receives plenty of support from Garner and Leto. Garner plays the more “straight” character, whose face always seems to be creased with concern and consternation, and opposes the perpetually charismatic McConaughey. It would be easy to fault the actress for such a performance, for being the wet blanket, but it is necessary in the film and Garner does it well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Leto receive a myriad of nominations for his portrayal of Rayon. It’s an honest, career-defining performance, and it’s not unusual to see awards go to actors who play outside of their gender or sexual orientation.

    But this talented cast would not have been able to give such effective performances without the script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, who do a fine job balancing all of the different tones in the movie. It switches effortlessly between being light-hearted and damning, political and humorous. The writers have also been sure not to make the political aspects of the movie too one-sided. Even though the FDA and its overt relationship with big pharmaceutical companies are taken to the woodshed in this movie, the perspective of the hospitals is also addressed. They just can’t go and prescribe any sort of medicine, as Ron feels they should do, and they need to run trials to test the effectiveness of medicines, even though the people who receive the placebo will die.

    It’s hard to name a more balanced film that’s come out this year. This is certainly a drama, but there is an incredible amount of humor with McConaughey’s aggressively straight Ron interacting with what his character perceives as the strange and outlandish culture of gay and transgender people. The film is both informative and entertaining, but not afraid to explore heavy subjects, giving audiences insight into a dark and confusing time in America. Amid the (warranted) buzz around “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave,” be sure not to miss “Dallas Buyers Club.”

    Grade: A

    Follow Alex Guyton @TDWildcatFilm

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