Release date: June 2nd, salve 2014
Running time: 116 minutes
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée
Writers: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
The FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services with an annual budget of $4.36 billion that’s responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety, tobacco products, dietary supplements, prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, biopharmaceuticals, blood transfusions, medical devices, electromagnetic radiation, cosmetics, emitting devices (ERED), and veterinary products.
This means the agency is also responsible for what types of medication is available to those living with AIDS and HIV. The agency primarily serves a review and oversight function in areas related to drugs, biologics and medical devices for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, and AIDS-related conditions. However, with so many lives dependent on these drugs, does that mean they always make the right decisions?
During the initial outbreak of the AIDS virus in the early 80s, when it was labeled the “gay disease”, the FDA already had their own approved drugs and AZT, (azidothymidine), antiretroviral drug used for the treatment of HIV/AIDS infection, synthesized by Jerome Horwitz of Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and Wayne State University School of Medicine under a grant from the US National Institutes of Health in 1964, wasn’t yet approved but was still in the stages of being tested. Dallas Buyers Club, based on a 1992 article in The Dallas Morning News by journalist and author Bill Minutaglio, is the real life story of Ron Woodroof during that time.
Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) is a homophobic redneck rodeo cowboy and electrician who’s been living a promiscuous heterosexual life, but all that changes when a work related accident leads to him being diagnosed with AIDS and given 30 days to live. Suddenly learning he’s stricken with the “gay disease”, despite him defending his heterosexuality to his doctors, including Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner), he goes through a bout of denial before accepting it and realizing time’s running out for him.
Dr. Saks is keen to get him on AZT. As of 1985 (when the film is based) AZT was the only drug approved by the FDA, but when Woodroof starts taking it, he finds his health rapidly deteriorating. It’s around this time he meets Rayon (Jared Leto), an HIV-positive transgender woman, whom he’s at first extremely hostile towards. It’s during a trip to Mexico to get more AZT that Woodroof also meets Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne) who tells Ron that the AZT is “poisonous” and “kills every cell it comes into contact with”. Vass prescribes him ddC and the protein peptide T, which are not approved by the FDA, but they manage to extend his life and three months later he’s set up a business with Rayon to get those same drugs to other people who need.
Inevitably, Woodroof’s business clashes with Dr. Saks’ views, but the facts speak for themselves. Diagnosed with only 30 days to live, Woodroof lives far longer on ddC and peptide T compared to those who’ve been prescribed the toxic AZT. Dallas Buyers Club sheds light on how a regulatory agency like FDA doesn’t necessarily have the people’s best interests at heart when they’re making up their regulations as they go. Why else would they continue to test a drug on patients with side-effects that include anemia, neutropenia, hepatotoxicity, cardiomyopathy, and myopathy? Only if there was money in it and in pharmaceuticals there’s always money.
Dallas Buyers Club is a film stripped bare of all the Hollywood gloss and glamour, instead it focuses on a story that’s rarely told about how the world really works and who are the ones that really suffer. With its remarkable performances by Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, it gives us two unlikely heroes who dared to stand up against conventions and regulations, and who happened to have AIDS.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .