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DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB: 4 ½ STARS. “an emotional drama that never stoops to melodrama.”

hr_Dallas_Buyers_Club_5Matthew McConaughey plays Ronnie Woodruff a rough and tumble Texan oilrig electrician who is diagnosed with HIV. In 1985 this is a death sentence and his doctor matter-of-factly tells him he has only thirty days to live. His first reaction is denial, and for several of the precious days he wallows, doing drugs and drinking.

A second visit to the hospital, this time hoping for a cure, he sees Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner) in hopes of buying some AZT, an HIV drug seeking approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Turned down, he leaves, the words, “Screw the FDA, I’m gonna be DOA,” hanging in the doctor’s office.

His search for a cure—or at least something to make him feel better—leads to Mexico and a non-FDA approved holistic approach to controlling his symptoms. With the help of cross-dresser Rayon (Jared Leto), he establishes the Dallas Buyer’s Club, an exclusive arrangement where customers buy a $400 monthly membership in return for unlimited access to Woodruff’s stash of illegal but effective vitamins and concoctions.

His operation soon catches the attention of the local law enforcement and the FDA so Woodruff must step up his efforts to keep his club open.

Based on a true story, “Dallas Buyer’s Club” raises many questions regarding a person’s right to treat terminal illness in whatever way they see fit. It’s a David and Goliath story with Woodruff battling against bureaucracy and big pharma to extend his life and the lives of his customers.

At the core are dual powerhouse performances from McConaughey and Leto. They play polar opposites, bound by a disease that neither understands. Woodruff is brash, obnoxious, quick to anger but obsessed with finding answers. McConaughey, who is startlingly thin here, leaves behind the movie star grin that made him a star and relies on the acting chops that have kept him in the top tier.

Rayon is troubled, a drug addict with a heart of gold. Leto delivers a heartbreaking performance that will make you wish he’d find a way to balance his creative life between his band 30 Seconds to Mars and his acting with more emphasis on making movies.

They spend much time together on screen, but it is one quick, wordless embrace that is their most effective moment. It’s a poignant and totally earned tear jerking scene that illustrates their bond and Woodruff’s slow change from selfish redneck to altruistic man.

In “Dallas Buyer’s Club” Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée has made an emotional drama that never stoops to melodrama. Instead it’s an inspirational film about standing up for what you believe in.

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