Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Dallas Buyers Club is a profoundly moving biopic of a hard-drinking Texan electrician, who refused to passively accept that his HIV-positive diagnosis in the mid 1980s was a death sentence.
Instead, Ron Woodroof smuggled a cocktail of unapproved drugs into America in direct defiance of his physician, who believed clinical trials were the only way to combat the virus.
Woodroof established a club to sell medications to other HIV-positive patients but his actions drew the attention of police and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which at that time took eight to 12 years to approve a new drug.
Ron didn’t have time on his side – doctors expected him to be dead within a month – so he bent the rules to stay alive.
His inspirational crusade became a beacon of hope: Woodroof died on September 12, 1992, several years after he was diagnosed with the virus.
Jean-Marc Vallee’s well -crafted picture opens at a rodeo ring where Ron (Matthew McConaughey) is engaged in unprotected sex with two women.
Later, he is electrocuted at work and regains consciousness at a hospital where Dr Nathan Sevard (Denis O’Hare) and colleague Dr Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) tell him that blood tests have confirmed that Ron is HIV-positive.
‘Based on your condition, we estimate that you have about 30 days to get your affairs in order,’ Dr Sevard tells Ron.
‘I got a news flash for y’all,’ barks the patient, ‘there ain’t nothin’ out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days.’
Very quickly, Ron accepts the diagnosis and travels to Mexico to source non FDA-approved AZT from Dr Vass (Griffin Dunne). The medic shatters Ron’s hopes.
‘The only people AZT helps are the people who sell it. It kills every cell it comes in contact with, good and bad,’ confides Dr Vass, who prescribes other drugs and vitamins.
This cocktail keeps Ron alive and he goes into business with an HIV-positive transvestite called Rayon (Jared Leto) to peddle the same pills to gay men living with the virus.
Dallas Buyers Club doesn’t sugar-coat a bitter pill. Woodroof isn’t portrayed as a flawless, morally robust hero.
However, the friendship with Rayon opens Ron’s eyes to the lasting good he can achieve through his business.
McConaughey is mesmerising, shedding 40 pounds to convincingly portray the emaciated sandy-haired hustler, who dared to live only when he had a death sentence hanging over his cowboy hat.
Screenwriters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack exercise some artistic licence: Rayon is a fictional creation.
However, these additions don’t detract from the emotional wallop of Jean-Marc Vallee’s film, or from the daring of Ron’s enterprise.