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AIDS crisis told wryly, well in 'Dallas Buyers Club'

  • 'Dallas Buyers Club' stars Jared Leto, left, as a transsexual AIDS patient, and Matthew McConaughey as a homophobic party boy who, after being diagnosed with HIV, smuggles HIV drugs into the U.S. due to the lack of approved treatments. (Focus Features)

What's been missing from all the movies about AIDS and the history of the AIDS crisis is that Matthew McConaughey swagger. And we never would have realized that if he hadn't made “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Here's a film about the early years of the crisis packed with a healthy dose of evolving attitudes about AIDS and homosexuality and good-ol'-boy get-'er-done optimism. And if McConaughey and his co-star Jared Leto don't earn Oscar nominations for “Buyers Club,” I'll eat my 10-gallon hat.

We meet Ron Woodroof as a sweaty, scrawny sex machine — profane, homophobic, coke-snorting, whiskey-drinking and gaunt, gaunt, gaunt.

It's not a good look for McConaughey, who lost a lot of weight for this film. It's not a good look for anybody.

This being 1985 Texas, Ron, a card-playing electrician working on oil rigs, is all about honky-tonks, rodeos and living in the moment. We see his unprotected sex, watch him share drinks and pass a joint. When he gets in a tussle, we see his blood get all over everything. We fret because we know what's coming.

An accident puts him in the hospital, where they figure out his other health issue.

“Frankly, we're surprised you're still alive,” the doctors (Jennifer Garner, Denis O'Hare) tell him. He probably has just 30 days to get his affairs in order.

Woodroof storms out, committed to denial. Jean-Marc Vallee's film counts off the days — “Day 1, “Day 8” — waiting for him to come around.

The first grand twist in “Dallas Buyers Club” is learning that Woodroof isn't some ignorant hick. He goes to the library, does some research and when he can't get on a drug trial that guarantees him the “miracle” drug, he buys stolen AZT. He winds up in Mexico, where a doc who lost his license (Griffin Dunne, very good) is on the front lines of the AIDS war, and is sharing, with his patients, everything and anything that the world's researchers can come up with. Woodroof starts smuggling the stuff to America. The FDA doesn't approve? “Screw the FDA,” he drawls. “I'm gonna be DOA.” The great conflicts set up here are Woodroof's efforts to fool the Border Patrol, the FDA, the DEA and the doctors who put regulations before the slim hopes of desperate, dying patients.

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