Review: Dallas Buyers Club (You'll Never Want to Be Skinny Again)

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Both an alternative med hero and an unlikely activist, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) was too homophobic to start an AIDS revolution, but when the doctors gave him a month to live he took it like a bridge jumper bet—because it was. With the help of an unlicensed doctor practicing out of Mexico (Griffin Dunne) he started an unregulated drug trade successful enough to become a “Buyer’s Club” and a threat to the local branches of the FBI and, eventually, the FDA. Based on a true story, Dallas Buyer's Club is so layered it’s hard to see David and Goliath beneath the details, but what everyone will be talking about isn’t the story, it’s how much weight the stars lost to play their parts. At first that seems reductive, dismissive, misguided—but the film’s main character is helping people in spite of a lethargic medical establishment, and neither he nor his Club qualify as warm or fuzzy. Yes, he’s improving lives, but he’s also turning away customers who come up short of his fee. McConnaughey almost always plays it straight. When the FBI threaten him, he scoffs—as if the government could condemn him with something worse than he’s already facing. He’s out for his own survival, not some fantasy of financial comfort, which helps his odd Horacio Alger story turn Dallas Buyers Club into a testament to the American spirit and a perverse capitalist love story smashed together. It’s as Reaganomic as a movie about the media-blind early AIDS crisis could be, and as the man at its center literally wastes away, he only grows more ferocious. More upsetting than uplifting (Jared Leto’s performance and skeletal frame still disturb me) Dallas Buyer’s Club doesn’t want your love, it wants your respect and all the work’s on the screen.

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