Dallas Buyers Club is a film about transformations. In it, a bigoted, hard-living electrician named Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. The year is 1985; this news is considered a death sentence. However, Ron is stubborn, belligerent and refuses to accept what his doctors say. Thus begins his transformation from coke snorting party guy to facts-wielding, clean-living entrepreneur.
Ron winds up in Mexico where he learns from a doctor about experimental medications to treat AIDS. After three months south of the border, he returns to the states with a new mission: to make some cash from selling the treatment (then unapproved by the FDA) to AIDS victims throughout his hometown. One of his business partners in this venture is a transgender woman named Rayon (Jared Leto). Initially they despise each other and are using one another simply to make money and live another day. However, their relationship gradually changes and a familial love grows between the two people.
The Dallas Buyers Club, from which the film derives its name, is an actual “club” in which AIDS patients could pay for a membership and receive all the meds they needed. This was a legal loophole that Ron discovers, allowing him to distribute the life saving alternatives that are being used in other countries, but not the U.S. The FDA at the time had only approved AZT, a drug with limited success. The club membership grows so large that soon Ron is flying all around the world smuggling unapproved (mind you, not illegal) medicines into the country to distribute through the club. This business venture and its effect on peoples lives – homosexuals, mostly – changes Ron. He’s transformed from a selfish “Ah don’t give a shit bout no one” redneck to a crusader whose rough around the edges, blue collar way of doing things opposes the hypocrites of the FDA and big pharmaceutical companies.
As a viewer, the most startling transformations on screen are the body changes stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have undergone to bring realism to their characters. McConaughey, whose been on a career roll for the past five years, is almost unrecognizable. The rugged actor lost a drastic amount of weight and his image is startling. Gone are the muscles and six-pack abs. In their place is a grossly skeletal actor. Whether losing all of his weight honestly placed McConaughey in the right place to play Ron is something only he can know for certain. As a fan of the actor since he lit his first cigarette in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused back in 1993, I must admit I saw many of the actors’ same bravado and charm that he’s brought to many of his past performances. Is Ron his best ever? That’s open for debate. However, the actor’s commitment to the role has won him many awards already and will most likely earn him an Academy Award in a month.
The revelation of this film is Jared Leto. As Rayon, he is also rail thin. However, it’s not just the body weight that transforms the veteran actor and rock star. Dressed in skirts and heels and a teased wig, Leto is practically unrecognizable when in character. In a role that could have come off as camp in lesser hands, Leto connects with Rayon’s interior motivations and becomes the character. He, too, is nominated for an Academy Award, and he will no doubt win.
The rest of the cast is excellent, with Jennifer Garner, Steve Zahn and Griffon Dunne the standouts, The script is pretty straightforward. It hits all of the exact beats you’d expect a biopic to nail. Aside from introducing the world to this offbeat crusader named Ron Woodruff, I wouldn’t call screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack’s script groundbreaking. It does what it’s supposed to do and gets out of the way of the acting. The execution of the film is also fairly straightforward. Director Jean-Marc Vallee doesn’t do much visually to make you sit-up and go “Wow.” Besides the handheld, documentary feel that adds grittiness to the story, I can’t say that I was blown away by the move’s direction.
The Blu-ray release is surprisingly lacking on any special features. I’m not sure if this movie was rushed into home video release to generate more buzz and awareness before the Academy Awards, but there’s nothing of value in the bonus features. All you get are deleted scenes and a generic EPK feature about the making of the film. At the very least I would have thought that this Blu release would have had some kind of documentary about the actual Ron Woodruff and the real Dallas Buyers Club. I suppose an Awards edition of the film may come out someday. I just don’t know if Dallas Buyer Club has the staying power to garner two home video releases.