Consider Big Pharma and the medical profession: they are more interested in what's profitable than what actually helps the patients.
So a sort of vigilante medicine is at the heart of "Dallas Buyers Club," a harrowing trip into the lives of AIDS patients in the mid 1980s. The direction is pretty nondescript, but the tragic true-life story and solid script somewhat buoy it up -- and the acting by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto is superb from beginning to end.
Electrician/cowboy Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is your typical cowboy type -- he drinks, takes drugs, and has sex with lots of women. Then he is diagnosed with HIV, and given just thirty days to live. Ron refuses to just accept the diagnosis, and starts searching for drugs that can save him.
Unfortunately, the only drug that MIGHT be able to save him is an antivital called AZT, which is in clinical trials for the next few years. So Ron sneaks it from the garbage and self-medicates. Then a doctor in Mexico prescribes him ddC and peptide T, neither of which have been approved by the FDA. But unlike AZT -- which doctors are pushing even though it's horribly toxic -- those medicines work.
So a defiant Ron decides to open a "buyer's club" to sell these medicines to people who need them, with the help of Rayon (Leto) a HIV-positive transgender woman he has befriended. But when the local hospital learns that Ron has been using and distributing unapproved medicines, they become determined to shut him down despite the good he's doing.
"Dallas Buyers Club" is a devastating movie, because of what it reveals about AIDS in the past and present -- the fear, the hopelessness, the social ostracism, the slow failure of the body, and the uncaring Big Pharma/medical establishment. Most of the movie is just watching Ron wrestle the Grim Reaper into a headlock, even though we know he cannot win.
The biggest problem is that Jean-Marc Vallée's direction isn't as great as other parts of the movie. It's not BAD, it's just sort of... meh. It moves in a straight line from beginning to end, with directorial few ups or downs. But the low-budget indie feel does work well, giving a dusty realism to Vallée's style, despite a few "Hollywood" moments like a sympathetic love interest doctor who is charmed by Ron.
I'm not really a fan of McConaughey, but I can safely say that he gives perhaps his finest performance ever here. He lost a lot of weight for this role, and it's often painful to see someone so emaciated and sickly, but burning with such passion and determination that it seems to eclipse his failing body.
He also handles Ron's changes in attitude with a delicate touch. He starts off with a vile attitude towards gay and transgender people, but his abandonment by his friends and his reluctant friendship with Rayon change him into a more open, accepting person. Ron never becomes a NICE person (he's still rough, crude and somewhat mercenary), but he does learn to appreciate who people truly are.
And Leto gives a pitch-perfect performance as Rayon, giving her a brashness and a vulnerability that makes her instantly endearing. Just consider the scene where she plays cards with Ron and casually talks about splitting the AZT. Jennifer Garner is the weak spot in the cast -- she's not bad, but her character is very Generic Hollywood Love Interest.
Despite some flaws, "Dallas Buyers Club" is a harrowing, heartrending piece of work -- as well as McConaughey's finest performance.