Movie review: Dallas Buyer’s Club (2013)

As the movie started out, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. The main character, Ron, is a less than sympathetic character. A narrow-minded homophobe attacking others, but then attacked out of the same ignorance by his friends when they learned of his HIV status.

In the movie, his character grows. First rejecting the diagnosis and being homophobic. To accepting the diagnosis, reading about it and research into drugs while continuing to be homophobic. To being an advocate for drugs for HIV-positive people and a close friend and business partner of a homosexual transvestite.

The movie calls into question the drug of choice in the mid to late 80s (AZT), the use of clinical trials (too slow and too corrupt), and the motives of the FDA (in bed with Big Pharma).

Ron looked elsewhere for treatment and drugs, reading the latest research and testing the drugs on himself. He set up a buyer’s club in Dallas, modeled on other clubs elsewhere in the country. Rather than selling unapproved drugs directly to people suffering from HIV, he would give them away to members of a club. For a monthly subscription fee, people could get and use these drugs, drugs Ron obtained from overseas. Drugs that were used abroad but not approved by the FDA.

No surprise that he ticked off the powers that be: the FDA, Big Pharma, the DEA. The DEA came after him, seizing the drugs he was selling through the club. The IRS came after him, auditing him. But he kept fighting to be able to get drugs for others, when doctors were relying on toxic drugs and dosages pushed by Big Pharma.

Of course, like Big Pharma, he was in it for the money. But unlike Big Pharma, he had a dog in the fight. He was trying to live longer. And to help others do the same.

He was originally told he had 30 days to live. 30 days. But by following the drug regime he did, rather than the drugs pushed by the doctors, he lived 2557 days after his diagnosis. 2527 days longer than he was told he would live. 2527 days longer than he would have if he used the drugs and dosage pushed by the doctors. Almost seven years longer.

The acting was well done. I had to laugh after I looked up who played Ron, the main character. I didn’t recognize him. I originally thought, “You know, this would have been a perfect role for Matthew McConaughey. But the actor who played Ron did a superb job.”

It turned out to be Matthew McConaughey. Clearly McConaughey can lose himself in a role. Some actors can’t and the audience recognizes them right away, which pulls the audience out of the story and diminishes the actor’s effectiveness. This was not one of those cases.

Though bits of the movie might chaff (the homophobic narrow-minded culture made me squirm, not to mention the objectification of women), it is a well-crafted movie and worth a watch. And it gets you thinking about drugs, the (legal) drug culture, and if there are better ways to truly help the sick. Or if money really is the root of all evils.

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