Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Dallas Buyers Club

Reviews - Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Reviewed By Vaughan Ames

Dallas Buyers Club
Dallas Buyers Club
We are very lucky in Keswick to get such a wide variety of films from the Alhambra itself; the film club exists to extend this still further, either from 'world films' that just don't get shown in Britain, or from films that somehow slip between the gaps. This was the case for our film on Sunday; 'Dallas Buyers Club' was a relatively low budget movie ($5m) which became a worldwide hit, but somewhere between the two it missed the Alhambra and the film club programmes last season.

The story starts in 1985 and is based on the life of Ron Woodruff, a 'white trash' electrician from Dallas who follows a simple mantra – live life to the full. A hard-drinking, drug-taking, womanizing rodeo-lover, he is definitely NOT the guy you would choose to live next door to. At the start of the film, he ends up in hospital where the doctors test his blood and diagnose him with AIDS, giving him 30 days to live. He refuses to accept this diagnosis; how can he have the 'homo disease' when he is most definitely heterosexual? He cannot stand even being near 'those faggots'.

We see him go through another day of debauchery and denial, but realising he is definitely not well, he goes to a library and starts reading up on HIV/AIDS. There is a very brief clip of him thinking back to what appears to be a sexual experience he had with a drug-injecting prostitute; he understands he not only CAN have AIDS but DOES.

We have to remember this is very early days for AIDS, when there was little or no understanding of its causes or how it was transmitted; 'Good-ole boy' Ron finds all his friends deserting him, he loses his job and even his home. With no-one to help him, and the hospital telling him the only known drug – AZT - that might help is not recognized by the FDA (America's Food and Drug Authority), he realises he really is going to die...what can he do to save himself?

His trips to hospital have brought him into contact with the gay world, specifically with a trans-sexual Rayon, who he gradually accepts as a friend. He also finds out about a potential source of the drug AZT, down in Mexico, so off he goes to see if he can buy some.

His world really changes here. The struck-off American doctor he comes across tells him AZT is poisonous and gets him into two other drugs which keep him alive; they are also not approved by the FDA. He goes back to America and starts selling these drugs, mainly to the gay community, with the help of Rayon. They set up the 'Dallas Buyers Club'; for a membership of $400 a month, you can have all the drugs you need to stay alive for free. Ron is staying alive, helping many others to do the same AND getting pretty rich at the same time.

He cannot get the FDA off his back though, and the film follows his attempts to keep the drugs flowing (including trips to Japan and Amsterdam), whilst the FDA keep closing him down.
All this time he is shown as getting less and less homophobic, until, when Rayon finally dies, he breaks down in tears. He continues his battle to get the drugs, but never manages to beat the FDA; the nearest he gets is a compromise where he is allowed to use the drug for his own use only, but we are only told this in some on screen text at the end of the film, which goes on to state that he finally died 7 years after his original diagnosis...

The film has grossed around $60m and over 70 awards, including 3 Oscars. So, why was it such a success? The first answer is in the Oscars: 2 of these were for Best Actor – Matthew McConaughey (Woodruff) – and Best Supporting Actor – Jared Leto (Rayon), and this is only the fifth year EVER where these two awards went to the same film. They certainly put themselves into the parts – McConaughey lost 50 pounds to portray the dying AIDS victim, Leto lost 30 pounds, shaved his eyebrows and had his whole body waxed! Their acting was certainly excellent and McConaughey has now become a world star - he was here in 'Interstellar' this week too. (Ironically, Rayon was actually a fictional character, a combination of various people in Woodruff's life).

I suspect that audiences also enjoyed the 'little man taking on the system' plot, especially in the US where the state is viewed with such distrust.

Whether the film deserves quite as many accolades as it won is, as always, down to your own view point. Personally I was gripped throughout the film (and even moved at times; any film which puts 'solidarity' up as a good thing is fine by me). The Keswick audience loved it overall, but around 20% of them were not inspired. Watching a film where the 'hero' is pretty unlikeable is not everyone's cup of tea...especially when his Texan accent is hard to follow; maybe we should switch on the sub-titles..?

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19th Keswick Film Festival

22nd-25th February 2018


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