By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist
An excellent example of history-based filmmaking, “Dallas Buyers Club,” features career-best performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. It recreates the dark and depressing period of the late 1980s when AIDS was a relatively new disease.
The film begins by introducing Ron Woodroof, played by Matthew McConaughey, a homophobic redneck who lives life recklessly. He drinks alcohol, smokes cigarettes and sniffs crack. Woodroof, a rodeo bull rider, becomes HIV positive after a wild night of booze and sex.
Ironically, this contraction makes him empathize with homosexuals, as he is diagnosed with the same disease many of them have.
The biographical film is based on Woodroof’s last few months of life. When Woodroof is diagnosed with AIDS, he researches any medication that will prolong his life. Woodroof finds and smuggles anti-viral medications into the U.S. from Mexico, in hopes of not only helping himself, but giving it to those who need it most – the men and women dying of AIDS.
Woodward’s partner is Rayon, a transvestite, played with unusual energy by Jared Leto. Leto is almost unrecognizable as Rayon, a character who helps Ron advance the drugs to the gay community. Leto’s performance is resolutely layered, with feelings of identity crisis and a type of attraction towards Woodroof all blended into one unique body.
As Rayon and Ron begin their business, the Dallas Buyers Club, they are chased by the FDA for giving away drugs that aren’t approved. The film then shows a moral and ethical argument: even if a drug is in the early stages of testing, should it be given to dying people with the intention of prolonging their lives?
Most of the success of “Dallas Buyers Club” should be attributed to Matthew McConaughey, whose performance as Ron Woodroof is masterful. McConaughey reportedly lost 50 pounds for the role and his commitment is shown in every frame.
The actor, who was once hailed as one of the sexiest actors in Hollywood, is bony and scrawny here, playing Woodroof as a man who lives with risk, even when he isn’t HIV positive. The actor is revolting in scenes where he realizes the sad truth that he could possibly die any minute from the virus.
“Dallas Buyers Club” should be a financial success. The movie touches upon themes that relate to the most-watched television shows. Compare Woodroof to “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White. Each man has his own demons, but at the end of their life, they become something greater than what they were before.
In the final years of Walter White, like the last months of Woodroof, an irrevocable legacy is formed. They both deal drugs, but in their moral epicenter is a desire for that legacy to transcend the lives that they have lived.
When Walter recalls the reason why he was a meth dealer, in the series finale of “Breaking Bad,” he says, “I did it for me. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive.” Ron Woodroof, a no name bull rider, helps extend the life of others, dying as a kind of savior. He does it for others but also for himself. He is a multifaceted hero with a sense of pride and understanding.
“Dallas Buyers Club” is an enveloping motion picture, which invites us into a society of drugs, disease and homosexuality. The film is revelatory in its view of the sad, emotional effects of AIDS. Consider a scene in the beginning where Woodroof sits in a hospital room, examining the morbid patients around him. Everyone, including Ron the observer, will all die within the next couple of months. The film indirectly begs the question: how do you spend your final days?