Tim Tan Huynh

Dallas Buyers Club

25 Jun 2015 — Some aspects are contrived and predictable, but overall this 2014 nominee for Best Picture lives up to the hype because of its unusual plot and charismatic leads.
Dallas Buyers Club

I watched Dallas Buyers Club last week. It was on my watch list for a long time, but I was reluctant to rent it because I thought that I might get bored while watching it. Instead, I enjoyed the movie.

Summary

Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodruff, the man whose life is the inspiration for this story. At the beginning of the movie, Ron is a hooker-loving, rodeo-hustling, gay-dissing, drug-addled man. A workplace accident sends him to a nearby hospital where he gets his HIV diagnosis. Ron seems to go through all five stages theorized by the famous Kubler-Ross model of grief; his denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are all on display.

Ron learns that the hospital has been chosen for a clinical trial of an experimental drug, AZT. He fails to convince Jennifer Garner’s Dr Eve character to guarantee access to the drug, so he bribes an orderly. Ron later returns to the hospital as a patient following a coke/dope relapse. He meets Jared Leto’s transgender Rayon character, who reveals that he is undergoing the trial and is sharing his dosage with a friend to ensure they both get AZT, not just a placebo.

Ron’s supply ends when the orderly explains that the hospital is now locking their inventory. Rayon declines to hook up Ron, so Ron meets a Mexico-based, US-barred doctor whom the orderly has suggested. The doctor reveals that AZT is deadly in its current form and prescribes a cocktail of drugs, including peptide T, that are scientifically validated, though not officially approved. Ron also gets the idea to sell the drugs and manages to bring a stash into the US.

With his new regimen, Ron’s health improves. He has difficulty finding buyers though, until he meets Rayon again. In the most visually impressive scene of the movie, Ron reluctantly agrees to partner with Rayon. The movie evolves into an buddy story as they set up in a motel. Ron eventually gets inspiration from an operation in New York to sell memberships and give the drugs to members for free. Thus, the titular Dallas Buyers Club is born.

The club grows until The Man, ie the FDA, tries to shut them down. The rest of the movie is Ron and Rayon dealing with drug relapses, supply restrictions, cash shortages, and governmental intervention. Ron becomes friends with Dr Eve, who questions the efficacy of AZT until she is fired. Rayon sells his life-insurance policy and gives the proceeds to Ron; Rayon later dies of complications in the hospital.

Ron takes the FDA to court in California for some reason or another; he wants the FDA to approve the peptide T protein that the club members have been using and that the NIH has basically endorsed. The judge is sympathetic, but he dismisses the case. Ron returns to Texas where he is met with applause from his peers. The movie ends with Ron riding a bull at a rodeo more than seven years after his initial prognosis of having 30 days to live.

The epilogue describes his fate and the outcome of the AZT trial.

Thoughts

Matthew McConaughey is captivating to watch, gaunt appearance and all. The movie would’ve been excellent with a different actor in this role, but McConaughey deserves credit. His on-screen sidekick does well, too; I remember Jared Leto’s performance being hyped up by Tony Kornheiser during the 2014 Oscar season, but Leto is surprisingly understated in his role as the foil. Jennifer Garner is less impressive as Dr Eve, mainly because her character arc is trite.

The only thing that I would change, exposition-wise, is the interlude screens that show the current date in the story and the number of days that have elapsed since the initial prognosis. I would only show the elapsed days and use in-world references to the current date, like Ron staring at his calendar in one of the earlier scenes.

Funniest Scene

Ron reacting to the government official noting that Ron’s list of so-called patients happen to be Dallas Cowboys (circa 1987-88).

Saddest Scene

Ron gathering his hidden cash and personal effects from his barred trailer home and driving away.

Best Scene

Ron reacting to the unexpected cash that Rayon gives to him.

I would’ve liked to have met the real Ron Woodruff. I know that Rayon is a fictional character, but I’ve been listening to the T.Rex songs “Life is Strange” and “Main Man” non-stop for the past week.