Review – Dallas Buyers Club

by allan tong for FILMbutton

Ron Woodruff was a foul-mouthed, ill-mannered redneck who contracted AIDS in 1986.  Back then only queers got AIDS, and Dallas was as redneck as it got.  Woodruff lost his job, trailer home and friends.  A driven, stubborn fellow, he sought every possible cure he could find whether or not it was approved by his government.  Remember: in 1986, AIDS was incurable and nobody truly knew what the disease was.

These life-or-death circumstances drove Woodruff to Mexico where he initially found a treatment to prolong his life while he sought a cure.  He also found a source of income: selling AIDS drugs to desperate patients in Dallas.  The only risk was getting busted by the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) which were too cozy with big pharmaceutical companies to approve treatments quickly.

What’s amazing is that Woodruff’s story is true.  He’s the unlikely hero in the extraordinary film,  Dallas Buyers Club, named after the underground business he ran.  Screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack do a superb job adapting Bill Minutaglio’s 1992 story about Woodruff from Dallas Life magazine. They don’t smoothen Woodruff’s rough edges nor deify him.  They’ve written a taut, powerful narrative.

Matthew McConaughey is unrecognizable as the shit-stirring cowboy Woodruff and keeps us riveted despite Woodruff’s angry homophobic character.  Similarly, Jared Leto has completely transformed himself as Woodruff’s business partner and junkie drag queen, Rayon.  Both performances are astonishing and have “Oscar” written all over them.  Meanwhile, Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction keeps the film lean and assured like a locomotive barreling down the track.

Dallas Buyers Club is one of the best films of 2013.

The film will be released in Toronto & Montreal on November 1st (and different parts of Canada later that month).

Allan is a Toronto filmmaker, co-directing Leone Stars, a documentary about child victims of the Sierra Leonean civil war.

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