The life story of Ron Woodroof is rich with dramatic potential, and Jean-Marc Vallée’s biographical film comes close to reaching it.
Woodruff was a renegade electrician/rodeo rider in Dallas, Texas whose drinking, drugging, and womanizing came to a screeching halt after he was diagnosed as HIV positive (and accepted the diagnosis) in 1985.
The homophobic cowboy, who was shunned by his friends and colleagues, eventually found a new community among others with the virus, mostly gay men, whom he helped by making available unapproved drugs and supplements that improved the health of many of them.
The title, Dallas Buyers Club, refers to the business Woodroof establishes to circumvent the law by giving drugs to members for free once they have paid the $400 monthly membership fee.
Much has been said about the strong performances (and weight loss) of Matthew McConaughey as Woodruff and Jared Leto as Rayon, an AIDS patient who eventually becomes Woodruff’s business partner.
While some have criticized Rayon’s character as a stereotypical, tragic, drag queen figure, I think her counterbalance to Woodruff’s Texas-sized homophobia and machismo works.
What doesn’t work quite so well for me as the film unfolds are pacing issues and some degree of repetitiveness. There are times when the film feels a little slow and predictable. This may reflect an effort to track the actual sequence of events, but some nips and tucks to help the film a little faster would improve the movie.
The interplay between Woodruff and doctor Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) is also a little problematic, partly because she feels under-developed as a character, which makes her motivation opaque to viewers at times.
That may not matter so much in the end, however, because the film clearly belongs to McConaughey and Leto.