In an effort to see as many Oscar nominees as possible before the award ceremony in March, and taking full advantage of the respective studios putting their movies back in theaters because of the nominations, the girlfriend and I took the opportunity to see Dallas Buyers Club this weekend. Though I don’t think the movie is strong enough as a whole to take home the Best Picture, the awards that Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto have been winning are well-deserved, and I would not be surprised to see them repeat their Golden Globe wins at the Oscars in March.
DBC is a story about Ron Woodruff (McConaughey), an electrician for Shell Oil and rodeo fanatic around Dallas, Texas. In 1985, after weeks of diminishing health, Woodruff ends up in the hospital after an electrical accident at work, and while admitted, the doctors run some additional blood work and determine that Woodruff has contacted HIV. At the time, HIV was primarily viewed as a disease of homosexuals and intravenous drug users, and since Woodruff wasn’t either of those things, he refused to believe that the diagnosis was correct. The doctors gave him 30 days to live and Woodruff angrily leaves the hospital.
After later coming to terms with his disease, and doing research on HIV, AIDS, and the various treatments around the world, he returns to the hospital seeking AZT, a drug that was not yet approved by the FDA for treatment in the United States. Woodruff tries to gain a place in the expedited human trial for the drug but was unable to do so. He then convinces a worker at the hospital to steal the drug for him, which he takes unmonitored and which ultimately causes his condition to worsen.
Near the end of his 30 days to live, he is desperate and heads to Mexico to see if he can procure more AZT illegally. When he arrives, Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), who has had his American medical license revoked, refuses to treat Woodruff with AZT, claiming that it is worse than anything else and actually damages the remaining cells. He treats Woodruff with DDC and Peptide T, a drug and a protein that weren’t approved for treatment in the US. After his health improves, Woodruff decides to to illegally import the treatment and sell it to Dallas sufferers of HIV and AIDS.
During his previous stay at the hospital, Woodruff met Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender woman also suffering from AIDS. Woodruff uses Rayon’s contact in the local homosexual community to find customers, and eventually sets up the Dallas Buyers Club, in which members pay a $400 monthly fee in order to receive the treatment for free. As membership grew in the DBC, and Woodruff has to travel around the world to find the latest treatments, the FDA gets interested in what he is doing and starts to crack down and confiscates most of his illegal treatments.
The prevailing theme in the movie is that individuals should be allowed to dictate what treatments they receive and not be beholden to government agencies like the FDA that can dictate the treatments they are allowed. There is also some discussion about how major pharmaceutical companies, like the one that developed AZT, can pressure caregivers to choose its drugs over other treatments, as well as use shoddy trials to get approval from the FDA to treat ailments.
For example, trials in other countries managed to show that AZT given in the doses that US doctors were given was too strong and it was destroying all cells. But since AZT’s manufacturer had the monetary resources, and because a lot of people were dying from AIDS in the early ’80s, they were able to influence the approval of the drug, even if it ended up harming more people than it helped. Obviously, the process is slightly different these days, and AZT ultimately ended up helping a lot of HIV/AIDS patients once they figured out the proper dosage, but it was interesting to see how things used to be done.
As I mentioned previously, the real strength of the movie is the acting performances, especially Matthew McConaughey. He lost a lot of weight to play the affected Woodruff, which made it difficult for him to hide behind his usual muscular self. The past few years have been a revelation for McConaughey as an actor, with critically acclaimed performances in Mud and Magic Mike in 2012 and his performance in DBC and his scene-stealing performance for five minutes opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the Wolf of Wall Street. Also stellar was Jared Leto as Rayon, who also underwent a dramatic change, convincingly playing a transgender woman and making you feel for the character and her plight.
The movie is definitely worth seeing, and if you can’t catch it in the theater, you should definitely try and see it when it is released on home video. It might have a huge hill to climb to beat a juggernaut like 12 Years a Slave (which I still haven’t seen) for Best Picture, but it’s a good bet to win both of the acting awards that it is nominated for.
Until next time…