David France’s How to Survive a Plague was a documentary all about the power of activism which helped destroy the death sentence that came hand in hand with the diagnosis of AIDS. The film studies the protests and passion of a group of inspiring individuals who fought with governments and establishments in order to demand drugs and medicines that worked. This movement helped in saving the lives of millions and in the development of treatments for a disease that comes with not only horrendous symptoms but cruel stigmas. France’s documentary would work perfectly alongside Dallas Buyers Club in a double bill screening. Both films tell true stories about the passion and struggle of real AIDS sufferers and both highlight the power that the patients had, and chose to have, during the original outburst of HIV and AIDS. Dallas Buyers Club has been in the works for over twenty years. Having finally secured funding, Dallas Buyers Club hit cinemas this February. Ron Woodroof, whose story the film tells, died in 1992 from AIDs, seven years after doctors gave him thirty days to live. The film looks at Woodroof’s fight for decent medication whilst also showing his own battle with such a stigmatised disease.
Woodroof was a straight man who, in 1985, suddenly found himself outcast by his friends and community whilst fighting his own preconceptions of homosexuality and simultaneously coming to terms with his immortality. Woodroof, when being refused unapproved medication, ultimately becomes a drug dealer. Smuggling illegal medication into the USA, Woodroof improved and prolonged the lives of many whilst making a lot of money doing it. Dallas Buyers Club is an award season favourite with six nominations at the upcoming Oscars. Both Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto are up for an award for their performances and so they should be. The weight loss of both actors has been discussed at lengths in the build up to the film’s release. Their transformations are astonishing but there is more to this film than just these drastic physical changes. McConaughey is at his best yet. One of the busiest stars of recent years, he has transformed himself through his film choices and movement towards more serious cinema. He takes on the role of Woodroof whole heartedly and it is clear from his excellent performance how much Woodroof’s story means to him. It is nice to see Leto back on the silver screen. Having taken a several year break from acting, to focus on his music with his successful band 30 Seconds To Mars, Leto has, in my opinion, been absent too long. His portrayal of a transgender woman and AIDS sufferer Rayon is astonishing and both him and McConaughey maintain superb on-screen chemistry. Jennifer Garner, an actress I rarely rate particularly highly, also gives a sturdy performance.
Like many academy award nominees this is a film all about great performances and a fiery script. It is well executed in many ways and, although it never rises to anything in particular, is entertaining and thought provoking. Dallas Buyers Club
speaks on behalf of those documented in How to Survive a Plague.
It does not shy away from the grave truth of these individual’s predicaments and their quality of life. It is bold, brave and moving. This is a film made out of respect to Woodroof but a film that refuses to over-sentimentalise him or pamper to us, as an audience. Dallas Buyers Club
is everything you want in an Oscar nominee.
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