Thursday, 5 March 2015

Dallas Buyers Club

Lowdown: A Texan redneck who tries to save himself after discovering he’s got AIDS evolves into running an underground operation to support fellow patients.
Up until watching Dallas Buyers Club a couple of weeks ago, there were two things and two things only I knew about this movie. First, I knew Matthew McConaughey won the Oscar for his role (or, as cynics would say, for losing so much weight for the role). Second, I knew the production company behind Dallas Buyers Club is busy suing people all over the world for allegedly downloading the movie. In fact, there is a trial going on in Australia as I am posting this, where the Dallas Buyers Club company is in court with iiNet, an Australian ISP. Dallas is trying to force iiNet to hand them over the personal details of people from whose IP addresses it claims its movie has been downloaded.
I will therefore send my warmest support to iiNet, a company that successfully stood up for the rights of Australians against the entire might of Hollywood before. I will also clarify that my viewing of Dallas Buyers Club was entirely legal.
But yes, there is a movie in here, too. And it’s quite a good one.
Dallas Buyers Club is a movie perpetrating to inform its viewers of a story that truly happened. Proceedings start at 1985, roughly about the time AIDS broke into the public with news of Rock Hudson’s death. We follow Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), a redneck Texan living a redneck’s life: he calls a caravan home, he makes money by conning people, he has [straight] sex whenever and wherever opportunity presents itself, he takes as much alcohol and drugs as he can, and he’s definitely not what I would call a nice guy. More like good riddance when he accidentally electrocutes himself and wakes up at a hospital where the supervising doctor and his colleague (Jennifer Garner) inform our guy he’s got AIDS and a month to live.
First there is denial; he’s no poof! Quickly enough, Woodroof realises AIDS explains a lot of the things that happened to him lately. It dawns on him that he will really die if he doesn’t make a true effort. So he does: he learns that the hospital is about to run experiment with some old cancer drug that shows promise, and when the hospital won’t take him on board the experiment (not to mention he might have ended receiving a placebo) Woodroof resorts to getting the drug under the table. That, as well as quitting his vices, seem to keep him alive for a bit.
Then the illegal supply runs out. Woodroof runs out of options, but learns of a doctor in Mexico who might have that wonder drug. What else can he do but die? Woodroof takes his car for a ride down to Mexico. There he meets an ex American doctor who fled the law for his unconventional methods and unconventional views: not only does he think Woodroof’s wonder drug is poison, he has his own concoction of positive drugs that seem to keep AIDS patients alive. Lo and behold, shortly after MC starts his new intake he turns almost healthy!
Now able to return to sort of a normal life, Woodroof identifies a business opportunity here. There is a market out there of AIDS patients busy dying when they clearly do not want to, and he can supply them with the drugs that can keep them alive. Many of those are gay, which requires Woodroof to rethink his world views.
On the other side of the equation there is the establishment: the pharmaceuticals trying to sell their wares to hospitals, even when they do not work; the hospital people happy to take pharma money into their personal wallets regardless of consequences; and there is the American FDA, taking its time oh so very slowly to look at the options Woodroof's experience clearly proves worth looking into while so many people are dying.
The story that follows is a multifaceted one: on one hand there is the personal story of Woodroof, a scum of a person, rising to the occasion and helping out many; on the other there is the historical story of the way AIDS sufferers had to endure more death and agony than they should because of pure greed and self interest. The personal story is riveting, somewhat predictable (they wouldn’t make a film out of it if it was lousy, would they?), receives extra cliché padding in the shape of the beautiful sidekick Garner, and suffers from some sagging around three quarters of the way through.
It’s the historical story that got me angry: this whole affair took place during my life time and I was completely unaware. Now, there are a lot of things I am unaware of; however, this one has direct implications on other government policies. To name one, could it be that our ongoing losing war on drugs is driven by similar considerations? Could it be that, in 20-30 years time, someone would create an Academy Award winning movie about a person fighting the very clearly clueless establishment as it fights its hopeless war on drugs? I strongly suspect the answer to both questions will be a resounding yes.
To the Dallas Buyers Club movie I will grant 4 out of 5 illuminated crabs.
To the Dallas Buyers Club company I will grant 0 out of 5 crabs for going to great lengths in order to apply basic extortion on ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives.

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