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Dallas Buyers Club, film review: Drug slinger shoots down prejudice

(15) Dir. Jean-Marc Vallée; Starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, 117mins

The recent Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague brilliantly explained how, when the gay population was being decimated by Aids in the mid-Eighties, and in the face of the Reagan administration and the Food and Drug Administration's inaction, gay activists began to educate themselves in medical science and help the community to take control of its own medical treatment. The Oscar-nominated Dallas Buyers Club tells the same story from the perspective of a red-blooded straight man.

A physically emaciated but emotionally ablaze Matthew McConaughey gives a compelling, larger-than-life performance as Ron Woodroof – a hard-living, booze-swilling, coke-snorting, rodeo-riding, sex-mad, good 'ol Texas cowboy who reacts to his HIV diagnosis with disbelief and homophobic disgust. But who later, being the sort of man who never backs down from a fight, cleans up his lifestyle, researches his condition, and drives down to Mexico to source drugs that remained unapproved in the US.

Spying the opportunity to make money from the desperation of fellow Aids patients, he begins supplying the drugs to them as well. Soon enough, he has swapped his cowboy hat for a yuppyish suit and oversized mobile phone, and become a professional thorn in the drug administration's side. He even cures himself of homophobia.

It is strange, and strangely unremarked upon, that naked unregulated capitalism comes to seem like the solution to any profit-driven nonfeasance on the part of big pharma. And Woodroof is at best an unlikely hero. But the film sketches the villains of the piece – the FDA and hospital administrators – so thinly that this is enough. And McConaughey is so charismatic that, as a simple one-man-against-the-odds drama, Dallas Buyers Club is consistently engaging; almost, despite Woodroof's intentions, inspirational.