Follow TV Tropes


Film / Dallas Buyers Club

Go To
"What? Hook me up to the morphine drip... let me fade on out? Nah. Sorry, lady, but I prefer to die with my boots on."
Ron Woodroof

Dallas Buyers Club is a 2013 drama starring Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, and Jennifer Garner. It was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.

The film is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof (McConaughey), an electrician and rodeo fan who discovers in 1985 that he has HIV when a workplace accident lands him in the hospital. After learning that the trial drug AZT, which he had been taking to treat himself, was ineffective, Woodroof begins smuggling unapproved drugs, first from Mexico and then further afield. With the help of Rayon (Leto), an HIV-positive transgender woman, Woodroof establishes the Dallas Buyers Club, dealing in drugs to help HIV-AIDS sufferers. Though Woodroof is opposed by the FDA, who attempt to shut down his operation, he finds support from Eve Saks (Garner), a doctor at a local hospital participating in the AZT trial. Saks witnesses first hand the attempts by pharmaceutical reps to get the drug FDA-approved and on the market, despite signs that the drug is proving ineffective in treating her patients while causing significant, severe side effects.

Screenwriter Craig Borten got the idea for the film after meeting the real Woodroof all the way back in 1992, but the project languished in Development Hell for over a decade, stars from Dennis Hopper to Brad Pitt going in and out of the process. McConaughey took the lead role in part because he shared Woodroof's same working-class Texas background, and his performance picked up critical acclaim (the film being a particularly epic Career Resurrection) alongside the work by Leto. They received the Academy Award for Best Actor and for Best Supporting Actor, respectively, making this only the fifth movie ever to win both awards.

This film provides examples of:

  • '80s Hair: Particularly on the hookers.
  • Action Survivor: Ron was pretty much brought to the brink of death but saved himself and countless others without being a qualified physician, or biologist, or pharmacist, having no formal education with medical stuff. He also faced the loss of his friends and his home, without any connections or real savings to fall back on, but still managed to start a big, successful network. In just a few months, he Took A Level In Intellectual Badass.
  • An Aesop: While the FDA's regulations against untested medicines are well-meaning and in some cases disaster-averting, like the thalidomide scare in the 60s, they end up doing a lot more harm than good in this case. As the authoritative yet understanding judge states near the end of the film, even if the experimental meds end up having huge side effects and questionable benefits, the AIDS victims who need them are dying and thus have nothing to lose by gambling with a new drug. The law should reflect that.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: The scene where Ron is researching in the library and realizes he had most likely acquired HIV through unprotected sex with a female drug addict. Like many people at the time, he'd previously thought that it only spread among gay men, and he's truly horrified.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Doctor Vass qualifies. He's practicing in Mexico because his medical license was revoked in the US. With access to a wider variety of drugs than he'd have in the States, however, he's also able to prescribe superior drug treatments for Ron's HIV.
  • Badass Boast: "There ain't nothin' out there that can kill Ron Woodroof in 30 days."
    • Ron's "I prefer to die with my boots on" line quoted at the top of his page is pretty badass in its own right.
  • Bad Habits: Ron disguises himself as a Catholic priest with cancer when crossing the Mexican-US border with his drug supply.
  • Bait-and-Switch: One scene opens with Ron's face in close-up and he appears to be praying to God in front of an altar lit with candles. When the camera pulls back, it turns out that Ron is in a dimly-lit strip club, and he's actually talking to a stripper.
  • Beauty Inversion: Most of the women, including Jennifer Garner, are decidedly un-glamourous.
  • Binge Montage: Ron's initial reaction to his HIV diagnosis is to go on a drug and alcohol binge with his best friend and a couple of prostitutes. This gets played when Ron avoids actually having sex with them.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The businesspeople behind the use of AZT to treat patients come across pretty badly, and the audience gets a sense that they just want to move as much product as possible no matter what actually happens to AIDS victims.
  • The Determinator: Ron travels around the world meeting with doctors and pharmaceutical reps to get the drugs he wants to import into the United States. After initially being told that he had just 30 days to live after his diagnosis, he actually lived a further seven years before finally succumbing to AIDS, and along the way fought against the FDA in court to allow him to bring the drugs into the country.
  • Doctor Jerk: Sevard.
  • Foreshadowing: An early scene in the film shows Ron and his friends discussing Rock Hudson's AIDS diagnosis.
  • Groin Attack: At one point, Ron sarcastically threatens to do this to Rayon with his pistol: "You call me Ronnie again, I'm gonna use this to give you that sex change you've been hopin' for."
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: Two prostitutes put on a show for Ron and his friend.
  • The Hedonist: Ron fits this to a T at the beginning. He still swigs shots of whiskey and takes lines of coke with the AZT pills, but as time goes on his Character Development softens things, pushing him to the point where he's actually lecturing other patients against addiction.
  • Heel Realization: Ron starts to realise what a homophobic asshole he is when Rayon turns down his drugs, even saying to him: "You don't deserve our money".
  • Hitler Cam: Inverted. Aside from dieting to starvation to be thin enough, the 6ft tall Matthew McConaughey is nearly always filmed from a slightly elevated angle to appear smaller and thinner.
  • Hookers and Blow: Ron and a friend indulge right after Ron's diagnosis. However, Ron belatedly stops short of sexual contact, having mixed feelings even as he disputes his diagnosis.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: It's all hidden under quite a lot of layers of homophobic, racist, and sexist asshole, but Ron eventually reveals himself to be this.
  • Loophole Abuse: "I don't sell drugs. I sell memberships. Welcome to the Dallas Buyers' Club."
    • As in real life, this gets complicated since the U.S. government has other means to crack down on him, such as going after his taxes.
  • Mighty Whitey: Ron is a straight white guy working hard to save the lives of a multiracial group of mostly LGBT people suffering from the same illness as him.
  • Never Bareheaded: Ron is rarely seen without a stetson.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: When going to visit her father to ask for money, Rayon loses the wig, makeup and dresses and wears a men's suit and tie.
  • Parental Abandonment: Rayon is estranged from her parents, and when she meets her father to ask for a favour, it is clearly a painful experience for both.
  • Porn Stache: Ron. With black hat and sunglasses he looks an awful lot like iconic NASCAR driver Richard Petty.
  • Precision F-Strike: From Dr. Saks: "I'm a fucking doctor."
  • Present-Day Past: Most glaringly with the large poster of a Lamborghini Aventador (first made in 2011) behind Ron's chair in his motel office.
    • A lot of the TV sets that appear look a lot more recent than models from the mid-eighties.
    • Much of the large-denomination currency sports the larger, off-center presidential portrait redesign that didn't debut until 1996.
    • During an early gambling scene at the rodeo, a "Bud Light" sign is seen featuring a version of the logo that wasn't in use until the 2000's.
    • Ron is diagnosed with HIV in 1985, but the name "HIV" did not come into use until 1986. Before then, the virus was called LAV/HTLV-III. However, the filmmakers probably did this so as not to confuse audiences who are not familiar with the history of AIDS.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Ron takes the government to court, and the judge winds up finding against him while still making a point about how wrong their crusade is. Ron's disappointment doesn't change how the judge's speech on behalf of HIV patients is a particularly emotional moment.
    • Dr. Saks counts as well since she's trying to do the same thing that Ron's doing but working within the system.
  • Screw The Rules, People Are Dying Here!
  • Strawman Ball: None of the characters who support the FDA's drug policies present a reasonable argument of why drug approval is so slow, even though Both Sides Have a Point. For instance, someone could have mentioned that it was Dr. Frances Kelsey of the FDA who blocked the swift approval of the drug thalidomide in the 1960s and thus spared America from the wave of horrific infant birth defects that occurred around the world when pregnant women took the drug. The difference here, as the judge states near the end, is that if you have a terminal illness, you really have nothing to lose, and the law should reflect that.
  • Three-Way Sex: The film opens with Ron having sex with two women in a rodeo stall. His friend T.J. is later seen having sex with a pair of prostitutes after Ron passes up on them.
  • Title Drop: "Welcome to the Dallas Buyers Club!"
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Ron starts the film as a homophobic jerkass, but when he starts dealing drugs and spending more time with Rayon and his largely-gay clientele, he begins to see what an asshole he was. The turnaround is evident when he runs into his old friend T.J. while grocery shopping with Rayon. After T.J. refuses to shake Rayon's hand, Ron is offended and decides to teach him a lesson.
  • Trans Tribulations: Rayon is a transgender woman and sex worker who is addicted to drugs and HIV-positive.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: Only after Rayon's death does Ron truly have a change of heart, and begins to show compassion towards gay, lesbian, and transgender members of the club.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Woodroof is seen having sex with women and maintains throughout the film that he is straight, though there are reports that he was bisexual in Real Life. The characters Rayon and Eve Saks are not actually based on anyone specific. They're composite characters based respectively on AIDS patients and doctors who knew Woodroof.
    • Woodroof states that one of his biggest regrets is he never had kids. However, the actual Woodroof was married and had a daughter. This became an issue during filming as the performers deliberately chose to avoid their perspective to give a more individual focus on Woodroof.
    • Woodroof's shown making extremely homophobic and racist remarks before his Character Development. These are disputed by those who knew him and were likely made up for drama.
    • The FDA never raided Woodroof per se, and several individuals shared a usually cooperative relationship with him. Woodroof also bought into quack remedies that could've killed him and his patients, and that's what ended up getting him the biggest push-back.
    • The film states outright in the ending that AZT is helpful, when given at the correct dosage and as part of a suite of multiple drugs. The preceding scenes, however, are all over the place about its effectiveness. Critics have pointed out that the film could've point-blank shown audiences the truth with context, even if the actual characters back then didn't know.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The hospital janitor who smuggles out the AZT to Ron doesn't appear again. It's a fair assumption they didn't speak or have contact once he told Ron he wasn't going to sell him anymore AZT, and Ron tried to punch him.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: After diagnosing him with HIV, Dr. Sevard tells Ron that he has about a month to live. Ron manages to see out that month, and with the right drugs he actually managed to survive for seven years after his diagnosis.
    • Mid-film, Ron has a particularly satisfying moment confronting Sevard and goading the doctor about how he shouldn't even still be standing.