When we first meet Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), he already has AIDS…he just doesn't know it yet. A work injury results in a hospital visit, where two doctors (played by Jennifer Gardner and Denis O'Hare) give Ron the bad news: he has about 30 days to live. Ron instantly goes into denial stage. Not only isn't he homosexual, but the movie has done a job of establishing up until this point that he's a 'hound' when it comes to women, not to mention very anti-gay around his friends – spouting off jokes about Rock Hudson's recent diagnosis (the movie begins in 1985).
As Ron's symptoms worsen, he begins to dive into research about HIV and AIDS and realizes he most likely acquired the disease through unprotected sex. He also learns of the drug AZT, which is in the trial stages, and becomes obsessed with obtaining it. When Eve (the female doctor played by Gardner) explains why she can't give him any at this point in the testing, Ron enlists the aid of one of the workers at the hospital – it's strictly a drugs for money exchange, but soon the hospital administration figures out AZT is missing and they start locking the drugs up.
Ron then makes his way across the border to Mexico where he meets up with another doctor (played by Griffin Dunne) who explains to Ron how AZT isn't the answer. While AZT can stop the further spread of infected cells, it can also block the spread of healthy cells. AZT also has a ton of unhealthy side effects, which can be deadly to those with an immune system that is already weakened. The doctor instead introduces Ron to other drugs (ddC and Peptide T) that – while not approved by the FDA in the United States – will help boost his protein levels and his overall health. After a few months of taking the medication, Ron is much better than he was before.
Ron makes the decision that not only he, but all AIDS sufferers, should be able to acquire this medication, so he starts smuggling shipments of it from Mexico back into Dallas. However, Ron is still looking to make an income (having been betrayed by his bigoted co-workers who still think AIDS is very much a homosexuals-only disease), so he sets up a 'Dallas Buyers Club', where a $400 monthly membership will give people access to the drugs. In the process, he becomes friends and financial partners with Rayon (Jared Leto), a transsexual he first met at the hospital during one of his relapses. It's through Rayon that Ron starts to become more sympathetic to other AIDS and HIV sufferers, as well as the homosexual community in general.
The performance by McConaughey in this movie is nothing short of fearless. We see Ron Woodroof go through every phase of grief over his predicament, and McConaughey nails them all – from denial, to rage, to bargaining, to sadness, to ultimate acceptance. What Ron never looks for, however, is pity – and while this movie may be about a horrible disease with horrible consequences (especially in the 1980s), there's also not that sense of dread and hopelessness we've seen in other AIDS-related films, such as 'Philadelphia'. Even though his body is failing him, Ron is full of life until his final days, and McConaughey honors the memory of Woodroof with a performance we'll still be talking about years from now.
No less stunning is the performance by Jared Leto, who is totally believable as the cross-gendered Rayon. There's nothing either showy nor stereotypical about his performance, and through the course of the movie we come to sympathize with Rayon just as much as we have with Ron, regardless of any of our own biases or feelings we might have about transgendered people going into the movie. His character proves to be Ron's window into caring about people he used to make jokes about, and in the process of making Ron care, Leto's performance makes viewers care too.
I went into 'Dallas Buyers Club' thinking it would be a solid, but 'preachy' film about the AIDS crisis during the late 1980s. What I didn't expect was for the film to be so engaging, occasionally funny, and downright appealing. It's a great movie, and one that every serious movie fan will want to have in their collection.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Dallas Buyers Club' arrives on home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo back, housing the Blu-ray (on the inside right), DVD (inside left), and insert for an iTunes or Ultraviolet copy in a standard Elite keepcase. A slipcover matching the artwork of the case's slick fits over top. Both the 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray and the dual-layer DVD are front loaded with a promo for Focus Features and trailers for The Best Man Holiday, Rush, About Time, and Closed Circuit. The main menu consists of a still of Matthew McConaughey's character (with Dallas in the background) and menu selections along the left side of the screen, as is typical with most Universal Blu-rays. The DVD contains the same still on its menu, but the selections run across the bottom of the screen.
'Dallas Buyers Club' was shot digitally using hand-held Arri Alexa cameras. The transfer here is top-notch, but since the filmmakers used available/natural light for almost all of the scenes, some footage comes off as more warm/over-saturated than others. While most of the hospital and outdoor sequences have more natural skin tones to them, other scenes that take place in Ron Woodroof's trailer and the rodeo that he frequents have a more orange-ish glow to them. This, however, properly reflects the way the film was shot/appeared in theaters.
Black levels here aren't quite inky deep, but they're good enough and don't cause any issues as far as shadow delineation or being able to make out certain details. In some of the hospital scenes that featured solid white backgrounds, I detected the slightest hint of 'mosquito noise' creeping into the picture, but it's very minor and shouldn't prove to be a distraction (if, indeed, it's even noticed by most). I didn’t pick up on any instances of banding or artifacting.
Aside from those few very minor issues, this proves to be a very good transfer of a great movie that viewers/buyers should be quite pleased with.
Those who have seen 'Dallas Buyers Club' know that at various points in the movie (when his illness causes Ron to collapse or weaken him), the soundtrack becomes filled with a high-pitched tone that resembles the ringing in the ears that Ron probably went through. I'm happy to report that the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track (the only track available) does a great job of handling those moments, as well as the rest of the movie's track.
For a movie that is primarily dialogue-heavy, there's a nice amount of rear speaker use, and both directionality and low-end frequency often come into play. While most of the movie's speaking parts remain front and center, several locations (like when Ron is at the rodeo or meeting friends in a bar) have an immersive feel to them that one might not necessarily expect from this type of movie. While I did notice one glaring use of ADR during a dinner conversation between McConaughey and Jennifer Gardner's characters (an issue with the production, not the track, of course), this track is free of any dropouts, glitches, or other problems.
In addition to the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish.
Those expecting a sappy, sad look at the AIDS crisis may be surprised at how full of life and vigor 'Dallas Buyers Club' turns out to be. Featuring fantastic, brave performances by both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, the movie makes us care without being manipulative or showy. However, 'Dallas Buyers Club' isn't just a movie with a pair of great performances – it's a great movie, period – and deserving of a spot on any collector's shelf. Highly recommended.