Friday, January 17, 2014


In 1985 little was publically known about HIV/AIDS except that it was primarily a “gay disease.” Few outside the medical profession understood that the virus was transmitted via bodily fluids through shared needles and unprotected sex, regardless of proclivity. Imagine the shock Texas electrician and rodeo rider Ron Woodruff (a gaunt Matthew McConaughey) feels when he’s diagnosed with AIDS. This confirmed drug user, frequenter of prostitutes, and unrepentant homophobe hits grief’s denial stage running until library research confirms the accuracy of Dr. Sevard’s (Denis O’Hare) diagnosis. Meanwhile Big Pharma requests the hospital conduct clinical trials of the experimental drug AZT, and Sevard agrees despite skepticism from underling Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner). Woodruff wants to participate in the trial, but there’s no guarantee he will be given the drug. He turns to the black market to obtain AZT, but that supply runs out. In desperation (and near death) he travels to Mexico and comes under the care of Dr. Vass (Griffin Dunne), an expatriate who warns against AZT and gives Woodruff a series of supplements unapproved by the FDA that seem to help. Because there are many more back in the U.S. like him Woodruff makes a deal with Vass to sell the supplements in Dallas and enlists the help of Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender patient of Eva’s, to spread the word and help run a buyers club. The demand is enormous and the results positive, and it begins to affect the AZT trials to the dismay of Big Pharma. Soon the FDA puts up roadblocks and the DEA threatens to shut the club down. McConaughey gives a physically demanding and ferocious performance, and Leto shines in his small but showy role. The familiar, pedantic script written by Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack hamstrings both, however. And Jean-Marc Vallée does neither the material nor the actors any favors with his heavy handed, obvious direction, letting poor Garner furrow her eyebrows in concern for much of the film. Woodruff’s true story is a worthy one, but it and the cast deserve a better vehicle than the one with which they’ve been saddled.

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