Despite the very, very worthy story being told here, I found it difficult to properly engage with the gritty way in which it is delivered to the audience. The mostly true story of AIDS victim Ron Woodroof who finds he cannot afford the drugs which is believed would keep him alive (he is given approximately four weeks to live) and who ends up in Mexico trying desperately to get a hold of this life extending elixir. Whilst there, fate introduces him to a doctor who explains what he has been told about this miracle drug simply isn’t true, and instead he prescribes him several much simpler and much healthier substances, all of which were legal in the United States although not FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved. Seeing not only a way to help his own health and that of others, but also a nice way to make a lot of money, he heads back up north to set up the eponymous Dallas Buyers Club.
We bear witness to the legal ramifications of his club and those like it, whilst the pharmaceutical companies still ram their product down the throats of the medical professionals and the lives of many thousands of patients are put into the balance. Some liberties have been taken with the personal story of Woodroof and his personality, there is no mention of his daughter in the film, for example, and two central characters, fellow AIDS sufferer and transsexual Rayon (Jared Leto – pictured above on the left) and romantic interest/doc with a conscience Eve (Jennifer Garner), are entirely fictional. Matthew McConaughey gives a very committed performance as Woodroof, initially a homophobic, drug abusing electrician/rodeo cowboy and general scallywag and both he and Leto are not only up for Academy Awards this season but also lost an unhealthy amount of weight for their roles.
In a way this highlights both the eerie quality of the film and yet some of its strength – when we see these two actors who do very much appear that they are not far from death’s door, there is a part of you that is shocked and forced to consider that reality for people with the disease not just then but now too, despite the improvement in our medical understanding, and yet we are simultaneously aware in the back of our minds that these two people do not have AIDS and have in fact done this to themselves. There is a sickening quality to the deed, and we have to ask – was it necessary? When Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier starred together in ‘Marathon Man’ (76) they were preparing for a scene when Hoffman declared that he was off for a run – responding to the quizzical look from his co-worker he explained that his character had been on a run just before the scene and so he had better go for one too, to which Olivier’s response was ‘There’s a reason they call it acting’. In the scenario of this film he certainly has a point, especially in the age of computers when some weight for the naked torso scenes could probably be digitally removed. Tom Hanks last year attributed his current Diabetes condition to gaining and losing weight for some of his roles in the past and one wonders if that’s true and if so just how much he regrets doing it. McConaughey has gone from strength to strength over recent years and so it’s great to see him nominated at the Oscars and it is deserved (as is Leto’s nod) but, should the industry really be encouraging this kind of thing? How long before someone goes too far and ends up seriously ill or worse, all for the sake of a film role?
I’ve posted the clip below a few times before but it’s worth repeating here due to its relevance and also to show just how much corruptive power drugs companies still wield in today’s world, with not only the medical profession but also large parts of the sports/recreation/therapy industries being driven by chants of ‘Sell, Sell, Sell’.