Cowboys in the Rodeo Ring

dallas_buyers_club_ver4

Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner, Denis O’Hare, Griffin Dunne, Steve Zahn, Dallas Roberts

The Young Victoria French Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee tackles the AIDS pandemic in the gritty but superbly told critically acclaimed film Dallas Buyers Club.

The film which opens with reckless rodeo hand and electrician Ron Woodruff having a cocaine fuelled orgy in a rodeo pen on the outskirts of Dallas, showing a glimpse of a hard living reckless Texan drifter. The narrative is firmly placed in the summer of 1985, at the height of the pandemic as audiences see an emaciated Woodruff recovering from a binge in his trailer park with a Budweiser as he reads a newspaper article about Hollywood star Rock Hudson collapsing in a Ritz Hotel room in Paris in July 1985 due to an AIDS related illness, shocking the world with a disease that the famous film star took pains to keep hidden – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock_Hudson.

This is a precursor to Woodroof’s own less glamorous story of a far more determined battle with the disease and the monolithic Federal Drug Administration (FDA) of America, which approved the relevant anti-retro virals (ARV’s), namely AZT first used on unsuspecting HIV patients alternating with a placebo in human drug trials.

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Woodroof is  the central character in Dallas Buyers Club, a homophobic, drug addicted hard-partying electrician who bets on the Texas rodeo to maintain a hedonistic lifestyle which abruptly changes after an industrial accident at a Texaco oil field, superbly played by Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer, Magic Mike), who lost 21 kilograms to authenticate the role, which recently earned him the 2014 best actor Oscar. McConaughey is now hot property in the acting stakes after shedding his rom-com image (Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days) and taking part in increasingly edgier, morally dubious parts such as in Lee Daniel’s The Paperboy and the recent HBO series True Detective.

In the Dallas Mercy hospital, a severely gaunt looking Woodroof is told that he is HIV positive and only has 30 days to live by Dr Sevard, (Denis O’Hare) and the sympathetic Dr Eve Saks, played by Jennifer Garner. Refusing to accept defeat and not willing to wait for the proposed clinical trials of the newly developed antiretroviral AZT, Woodroof embarks on a mission to source the best possible ARVs to keep him alive. After an initial phase of denial, anger and stigmatisation from fellow co-workers and those he previously cavorted with at the Dallas rodeos, the determined Woodruff embarks on a mission to save his life even if it means illegally.

He embarks on an illicit journey to Mexico where he meets Dr Vass played by Griffin Dunne who supplies him with a regimen of FDA unapproved drugs to sustain his survival. Ever the drifter, Woordoof makes his way back into Texas, ironically dressed as priest with a stash of ARVs which he needs to distribute under the radar to fellow sufferers.

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However his pervasive illness lands him back in hospital where he meets the fabulously tragic transsexual Rayon, an utterly breathtaking transformation by Jared Leto (American Psycho, Requiem for a Dream, Alexander), who also received an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor at the 2014 Academy Awards. The gorgeous, fatally destructive Rayon is the perfect foil to break down Woodruff’s preconceived notions of homosexuality and homophobia as his biggest clients, the city’s largely excluded homosexual community soon become paying members of the lucrative, yet life saving Dallas Buyers Club.

What director Jean-Marc Vallee does, is never hold these characters in judgement but superbly lifts a mirror up to their desperate and unconventional forms of survival in mid-1980’s America when the knowledge of AIDS and the correct dosage of ARVs was certainly not as advanced as it is today, almost 20 years later.

It is McConaughey and Leto’s staggering transformation with the former losing an incredible amount of weight and really bringing pathos and layers of emotion to a complex role while Leto is simply incredible as the sultry and tragic Rayon who eventually has to forgo the charade and in one touching scene he bravely confronts his sexuality and illness with his conservative Texan father.

Both actors deserved to win these Oscars and while Dallas Buyers Club is heavy on subject matter, it is a supremely balanced account of one man’s incredible and courageous journey of survival both in America and through procuring foreign drugs internationally to prolong his life at a time when advances in medical science were only grappling to come to terms with the scale of a truly worldwide AIDS pandemic.

Powerful, emotional and brilliant, Dallas Buyers Club follows the trials of Woodroof and Rayon as cowboys in the rodeo ring, dodging the inevitability of being thrown off the proverbial bull while the clowns provide a tragic distraction, the film’s poignant central motif.

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