Rarely is there a performance that so
overpowers the story that it becomes the story.
Matthew McConaughey, as Ron Woodroof, gives an Oscar-worthy performance
as the rough, tough, urban cowboy homophobe who got the A.I.D.S. virus, and
then set out to prove that the medical establishment was wrong.
Ron Woodroof, sometime bull rider,
begins by showing us what a horn dog he is, by boffing groupies in the cowpens.
And that kind of behavior is precisely what changes his sorry life.
Since he’s a drinker and a drug user, and lives by himself in a
trailer, it takes him a while to realize he’s really sick.
It’s 1985, and the reality of H.I.V. is just starting to dawn on this
part of the American subculture, which basically consists of blue-collar
single guys “partying” together whenever possible.
Girls are for casual encounters. You
make a living doing whatever you can; in Ron’s case, he’s an electrician
by trade, and thinks of himself as a gambler (though a bad one), and there may
have been a drug deal or two in there, but nothing that serious.
In fact, Ron Woodroof tries very hard to be not very serious about
anything. That’s part of the
tough-guy persona he wears like his big Stetson cowboy hat and his tight
Ron’s immune system is so compromised
that he just faints on the floor, and finds himself in the local hospital,
where the doctors solemnly tell him that he has just tested H.I.V. positive.
Ron can’t believe it. He’s
always assumed that this particular affliction is confined to homosexuals
(well, actually, epithets describing same) and drug users.
In a profanity-laced tirade, he yanks the I.V. out of his arm and
storms out of the hospital in denial. But
even he can’t deny the blood he’s coughing up.
The doctors line up into good cop/bad
cop: one guy offers him nothing but a
30-day death sentence, the other, Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), seems
genuinely concerned and interested, but not enough to include him in their
“double blind” study of the latest medication.
In the hospital ward, Ron meets Rayon (Jared Leto, in a really
impressive supporting performance), a cross-dressing drag queen who tries to
befriend him, but at first Ron will have none of it.
Gradually, Ron begins to accept not only
his condition, but the friendship of Rayon, mostly because all his old, rowdy
friends have suddenly started treating him like a pariah.
(Ron had to distance himself from them before he realized they
weren’t really his friends, anyway.)
Rayon is a part of the “double
blind” study at the hospital, but offers part of her medication for sale
(which of course messes up the regulated dosage in the study), and this starts
Ron on a quest to find the drugs that would help him.
He quickly discovers that the recently-released AZT greatly reduces the
immune system’s ability, and in consultation with a “hack” doctor
elsewhere, starts finding the vitamins and supplements that treat his
symptoms, without really trying to “cure” anything.
And it works. Somewhat.
Ron feels better; at least good enough to send himself to Mexico (or
Amsterdam or Tokyo or wherever) to get these “non-authorized” drugs, and
the line out his door literally winds around the block, with, yes, others with
his condition who have heard where they can get some real help.
Ron is just enough of a wheeler-dealer, and willing enough to operate
“under the radar,” to happily supply everyone,:
for a flat fee (of $400), they can join the “Dallas Buyers Club”
and have all the pills they want.
Ron will never be mistaken for a scholar
and a gentleman, but he does his research, and he begins to genuinely care for
these poor, afflicted souls, despite himself.
It’s the kind of rough redemption that
makes for a powerful story. And
McConaughey’s transformational portrayal is absolutely stunning.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St.
Stephen’s Presbyterian Church,