By Drew Haughey
The immediate thing that struck me about Dallas Buyers Club was that, despite Ron Woodroof’s (Matthew McConaughey) moustache/cowboy hat combo, the issues this film delves into have not dated.
While the overarching plot moves forward on the basis of Woodroof being diagnosed with HIV and subsequently outcast from his home and friends, the gradual assimilation of Ron with the other mistreated groups of the 1980s, gay and transexual people, transforms him; from hater to helper.
Things have moved on since the McCarthyism towards sufferers of HIV/AIDS, with attitudes often improving as treatments have advanced. The issue of the complicity of the FDA in bowing towards pharmaceutical companies still exists to many in the public mind, and to see it so clearly cut as it is here brings a real sense of angst; that behind rules and regulations, there are real people dying. That isn’t to say that all the medical professionals lacked in compassion – Jennifer Garner’s character Dr Eve Saks has a huge conflict of interest between treating those she cares about with untested drugs, and letting them seek Ron’s outside help and unapproved treatments.
Why do I say that not much has changed then? Attitudes towards HIV/AIDS have changed, but not so much towards the communities that were hit by them the most. The attitudes several hicks at a bar display towards character Rayon, a transgender man, do not seem a world away. Jared Leto was himself judged by an audience member at a film festival for playing Rayon, rather than a trans actor. To his credit, Leto’s reputation as a chameleon proceeds him, and his portrayal of a brave person in an uphill battle, who eventually begins to fade, is shattering.
In saying that, I admire that for the most part the film follows an upward trajectory, despite the desperate circumstances. McConnaughey, who lost three stone for the role, still manages to smile and project strength through his blunt sense of humour.
The film’s end celebrates a winner rather than a loser; a man who refused to let disease defeat him. And for presenting an unusually strong defiance against what could so easily have been a downhill tragedy, this film is also a winner.