Dr. Donna Copeland’s
MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY JENNIFER GARNER JARED LETO
DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
This film has been getting free advertisement and Oscar buzz since the first images of Matthew McConaughey appeared in the papers having lost 38 pounds for the role. After an impressive quadruple performance year for the versatile actor in 2012 that resulted in zero Oscar nominations, McConaughey again has two well reviewed and highly acclaimed roles this year, suggesting the Academy will be forced to take notice. Mud received some of the year's top marks from critics, yet it’s the highly anticipated Dallas Buyers Club that will likely earn the native Texan his first Academy Award nomination, and I think he can even win. McConaughey’s dedication to reorienting his career has taken him in three years from a mainstream actor to one of the most sought after artists in the industry.
In Dallas, Texas 1985, bull rider Ron Woodruff (McConaughey) was drinking, gambling, doing drugs and having unprotected sex. What he didn’t already realize is that he had contracted HIV until doctors told him he has only 30 days to live. In the face of death, Woodruff refused to sign up for an experimental ACT drug program, and instead bought the controversial AIDS drug in the black market. When the drug failed to help him and others, actually making them worse, he did research and discovered alternative medicines in Mexico. At first it was about aiding himself, and then when he discovered the FDA wouldn’t even allow patients to try anything but what they approved he began a buyers club selling these treatments to patients and making money.
This film has an aim to further shed light on the disgusting attitudes of the FDA and the marriage of medical doctors and pharmaceutical companies. That being said, McConaughey (who also serves as a producer) completely embodies this role (he actually looks physically worse than the actual Woodruff), bringing this complicated and complex individual to life. The film also explores the misconception that AIDS was only something existing in the gay community and how Woodruff, in the beginning, was very homophobic, and had to bear the brunt of being associated with a group of people he had himself degraded. McConaughey’s physical transformation is just where this performance begins; it’s extremely complex and multilayered as it constantly evolves throughout the film.
Equally impressive is Jared Leto (Requiem For a Dream); the actor turned musician also lost a great deal of weight and shaved his entire body to play Woodruff’s assistant Rayon. He refers to himself as Miss-Mr. when they first meet, but Leto’s performance here is certainly a scene stealer and Oscar worthy in its own right. The film chronicles the struggles that Woodruff faced in trying to help people that were literally dying for help that the medical establishment wasn’t set up to offer at that point in time. McConaughey is the entire film and everything rests on his shoulders to sell this very controversial true story.
Final Thought – McConaughey gives the most explosive & transformative performance of his career.
By: Dustin Chase
I had two reactions to Dallas Buyers Club. One is admiration for the real Ron Woodruff on whom the story is based. He started out as a self-centered, angry, playboy who didn’t mind scamming his friends, but then shored up after he became ill with HIV, and began to help others (albeit to his own advantage). Since he was equipped to recognize scams coming from others, he took on the establishment by outing the FDA for unprofessional practices. Ever the hustler, he forms a club requiring $400/month, and in return the member receives all the drugs available at the club for free. (How he acquires these medications is part of the story.) Matthew McConaughey gives a stellar performance as this figure, looking and playing the part of an emaciated loser-turned advocate for medical patients.
My other reaction is to what I regard as the “Hollywood treatment” of serious issues, namely medical research and the FDA. Granted, I do not know the true story of Woodruff, but I did work in a cancer center for over 20 years, so have a great deal of respect for medical practice and research. Although the film does not explicitly advocate running to Mexico for treatments, it provides a model for those who are apprehensive about standard treatment in the U.S. In fact, many, many people have done that to their regret, including some film stars. Although I would not defend the FDA entirely, for the most part it has protected Americans from horrific drugs such as thalidomide. Still, I think it timely that Dallas Buyers Club highlights an example of how pharmaceutical companies and medicine allowed their partnership to undermine their objectivity in testing the effects of AZT on HIV. Another bother for me about the film is the example of Ron making a few trips to the library, which equips him to provide drugs to seriously ill patients and chart their progress as a means of testing the treatment’s effectiveness. There is a reason why placebo controlled, double blind, randomized trials have become the standard in medical research.
On the other hand, as a drama, Dallas Buyers Club is entertaining, suspenseful, and interesting. Along with McConaughey, Jared Leto as Woodruff’s transsexual business partner is fascinating. He becomes so by sheer force of his charm and astute bargaining with the homophobic Woodruff. Eventually, they create a workable association, and it is nice to see Woodruff relent and develop caring feelings toward him.