'Dallas Buyers Club' a true story that doesn't try to redeem itself

There are plenty of analogous plot-lines one could imagine for Dallas Buyer's Club - a racist wakes...

There are plenty of analogous plot-lines one could imagine for Dallas Buyer's Club - a racist wakes up black, a misogynist wakes up to discover he's a woman, etc. (YouTube)

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Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:14 PM ET

There are plenty of analogous plot-lines one could imagine for 'Dallas Buyer's Club' - a racist wakes up black, a misogynist wakes up to discover he's a woman, etc.

The beauty of 'Dallas Buyers Club' - the real-life story of a gay-hatin' Texas good ol' boy rodeo-rat (Matthew McConaughey) who contracted full-blown AIDS in 1985 - is that, for the most part, it resists redemption. Director Jean-Marc Vallee seems to channel all his innate Canadian niceness into a single character, a disillusioned medical researcher played by Jennifer Garner.

Unfortunately for Garner, by dint of being the saintly medico, she is the one main player who doesn't get to indulge a career performance.

It's obviously not a feel-good story. But there are two great reasons to watch 'Dallas Buyers Club' (the title refers to a get-rich scheme hatched by McConaughey's character Ron Woodroof to smuggle experimental AIDS drugs into the country). Those reasons are McConaughey and Jared Leto.

McConaughey's physical commitment to the role of Ron Woodroof is well documented.

He lost 47 pounds to play a man who spent much of his last six years on the verge of death. But it's the unrepentant piss 'n' vinegar he brings to the character that raises the story above movie-of-the-week status. He is racist and homophobic, and when his friends shun him after an AIDS diagnosis, he literally spits on them too.

Being an AIDS patient in the '80s puts him naturally in a ward with gay people, and it's not a circumstance that softens his feelings toward them.

The first person he meets, a drug-addicted, transgendered person named Rayon (Leto), is similarly disinclined to take crap, and their meeting is the beginning of a "frenemy" clash/dance of personalities that gives the movie its soul.

It should be mentioned that Leto also crash-dieted (40 pounds worth) for the role. But the life he breathes into Rayon overcomes the physical cadaverousness he's imposed on her.

The scheme that became Woodroof's legacy, fittingly, was based on selfishness - or at least self-preservation and self-interest.

Convinced (rightly, as we now know) that the drug AZT was killing him faster than AIDS was, he plugs into a Mexican-based network of unapproved, experimental drugs.

Soon, he realizes there's a market for same, and government foot-dragging leaves an open door for major worldwide smuggling action.

Lest he be considered too much the hero, Vallee depicts him - to his partner Rayon's chagrin - enforcing a cash-only operation (the "buyers club" is a dodge to avoid a charge of selling unapproved drugs). Turning away out-of-pocket AIDS sufferers is a callous act that underlines that Woodroof's condition hasn't necessarily made him a better person.

It would be false to say McConaughey's portrayal doesn't soften somewhat by the last act, when it comes time to spit in the government's eye in court.

But even the worst haters have a heart, just as there may be a little a--hole in every activist.

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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