Craig's First Take: Dallas Buyers Club

Photo Credit: Photo by Anne Marie Fox – © 2013 Focus Features, LLC

It seemed nearly unthinkable 30 or so years ago but I just read an article recently that a vaccine for HIV may come within the next decade. The virus has come a long way, both in its treatment as well as our perception of just what causes it, two of the many things the great “Dallas Buyers Club” encourages us to think about.

But the movie has also garnered attention for being the film Mathew McConaughey lost all that weight for. Actor Jared Leto ("Fight Club") also took a break from his band "30 Seconds to Mars" to drop 30 pounds to take a supporting role. What's great about both is neither is letting the weight-loss do the acting for them. These are two phenomenal, Oscar-worthy performances.

McConaughey dropped 50 pounds to play Ron Woodruff, the subject of an article written in the Dallas Morning News in 1992, on which this film is based. Ron’s life is a reckless jumble of unprotected sex, drugs, and gambling, all while being a complete A-hole and homophobe with the rest of his redneck, trailer park friends. He’s the last guy you would expect to call “hero’ but when he is diagnosed with the disease, he takes it upon himself to traffic drugs, unapproved by the FDA, from other countries to the States, setting up memberships and soon taking on Big Pharma and the FDA.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee does an exceptionally subtle but still heart-wrenching job with this material, especially the friendship and business partnership that develops between Woodruff and Rayon (Leto), a transvestite with the virus who eventually becomes Ron's way of reaching customers in the gay community. She’s a tough broad who can give as good as she gets but whose personal life is a far more painful ordeal. The respect and caring that develops between the two is fantastically done without ever resorting to long, drawn-out sentimental scenes.

There’s also a certain spark to Ron himself that I really liked. Yes he’s closed-minded and someone who doesn’t really put much thought into his actions but he seems like a man with a code, the die-with-his-boots on survivalist who could be a genius “street smart” guy if he would just focus. McConaughey is brilliant here, not only does his body transformation really shock but he captures the nuances of both the illness tearing him apart and the transformation of Ron’s own perspective on life.

“Dallas Buyers Club” focuses on many things- the misconception that the disease was somehow the “gay” disease, the corruption of doctors, the FDA, and Big Pharma, and the introduction of these clubs as a viable alternative to hospital trials that had varying levels of success. But much like Tom Hanks in “Philadelphia”, it’s McConaughey and Leto who add a face and a heart to the illness that will be very hard to forget.