Matthew McConaughey famously lost around 50 pounds to play the role, but his performance as an unlikely hero of the Aids epidemic in rousing fact-based drama Dallas Buyers Club packs real heft. By turns ornery, obnoxious, dogged, canny, brave and compassionate, he is mesmerising to watch.
When the film opens in 1985, McConaughey’s Ron Woodroof is a typical Texan good ol’ boy, a macho, womanising, cowboy-hat-wearing electrician, sometime rodeo rider and knee-jerk homophobic bigot. Then he is diagnosed with Aids and given 30 days to live.
His initial reaction is one of incomprehension at having contracted a supposedly ‘gay disease’, yet after finding himself shunned by his old friends, his will to live kicks in, as do his entrepreneurial instincts. At first, he bribes a hospital janitor to steal the drug AZT for him, but begins exploring alternative treatments after a Mexican doctor alerts him to the medicine’s toxic side effects and limited efficacy.
He learns of other drugs and supplements, most of them illegal in the US, and travels the world to obtain them, funding himself by setting up a ‘buyers’ club’, membership of which enables his customers to circumvent the law.
Woodroof’s clientele is overwhelmingly gay and, in the film’s version of events, it is his friendship with transgender drug addict Rayon (played with humour and heart by a flamboyant Jared Leto) that helps him reach out to this market and overcome his own prejudices.
Director Jean-Marc Vallée, working from a script by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, tells this as a stirring tale of underdog triumph, as its maverick hero undergoes a moral awakening while taking on the hostile federal authorities and equally obstructive medical establishment. This is undoubtedly a simplified, Hollywood account of the actual events, and some may object to seeing an Aids drama with a straight man as its hero, but thanks to the terrific McConaughey it really packs a punch.
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