Where’s a will, there’s a pill

Ron Woodroof, the protagonist of „Dallas Buyers Club,“ isn’t easy to like. He is a racist, a homophobe, a drug addict, a drunk and a thief. His one redeeming quality is that he does not give in when he learns that he has caught HIV, but tries to fight it – and he does not just fight the virus, he also fights a harmful anti-HIV drug called AZT, the FDA, the DEA and the DA.

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Woodroof is played by the ubiquitous Matthew McConaughey, and he takes on a lot of acronyms with the same down-to-earth earnestness and a stubborn logic. He travels to Mexico, Japan and elsewhere and brings back protein-based and/or natural drugs that will help him and many other AIDS patients to live a little longer and with less pain. He has moral standards: Every drug he distributes, he has tested on himself first. Since selling those drugs is illegal, he accepts paying members to his Dallas Buyers Club and then gives away the drugs they need. To him, it’s a ponzi scheme where no-one loses; to his customers, it’s like swinging yourself form one last straw to the next with a death sentence hanging over you. It’s 1985.

So there you have it: the protagonist is a bastard with some heart. He is gaunt, emaciated and sometimes collapses where he stands. Most of the time, he doesn’t even have enough strength for his escapades anymore. If you can bring yourself to like him, the movie works for you. There is a magnetic scene where Woodroof takes a leak on the Mexican side of the border, but is so weak that he has to clamp the IV drip with his teeth, while humming to himself and racking his brain how to bring a trunk full of medicine to the other side. Thirty years ago, the US had nothing up its sleeve to go to war against a virus.

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The movie has a lot of scenes and a lot of cuts; there are only a few takes that are over a minute, and yet it never feels in a hurry. It’s not a tear-jerker, but has a lot of humanity for its characters. If Woodroof is the point of entry into the movie, a transsexual called Rayon is its emotional center. Played by Jared Leto with exactly the right amount of courage, confidence and sensitivity, it’s a performance that’s a match for McConaughey’s. Rayon sees something in Woodroof he himself does not. There are no cheap solutions: Woodroof does not become a philanthrope or even Rayon’s lover. Neither does he fall for a doctor, played by Jennifer Garner, who helps him with his cause. Their fates lie elsewhere. It’s not an easy film, but it is surprisingly upbeat, considering.

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