The very scary fact thing about watching Dallas Buyers Club is always knowing that this is sadly a very true story.

Not that we have anything except unfettered admiration for Ron Woodroof and his wild unorthodox schemes, but it is the reminder of the sheer number of countless deaths that could have been avoided if it hadn’t been for the complicity of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration Agency with the greed of the Pharmaceutical Companies that still rankles even now.

Woodroof was a working-class Texan hedonist living in a Trailer, hanging out at Rodeos and partying very hard indeed. He was also a serial homophobe. When he collapses one day and is rushed to the ER the Doctors discover he is HIV + and with such a minute T cell count, they tell him that he has no more than 30 days to live. The year is 1985 and there is very little hope for anyone that gets full blown AIDS.

At first he is in total denial and continues his life of drugs, drink and unprotected sex with hookers until his body starts to give up. When he finally accepts the truth, he also sharpens his resolve to beat this rap. He drags himself to the library and consumes all the information that is in the public domain at the time, which is very little. It is however enough to know that there is about to be a trial of AZT a new anti-retroviral drug …. the first if its kind … and because of the rapid explosion of AIDS, the FDA have agreed to fast-track it without its usual safeguards and checks.

Woodroof pleads with the Doctors at his local hospital to be allowed some of this new wonder drug, but he is rejected on the grounds that he doesn’t qualify, so he seeks out an Orderly and bribes him to steal a supply. When this dries up, the Orderly recommends that he tries a Doctor in Mexico who may be able to help.

He checks into Dr. Vass’s rundown Clinic over the Border and it is there that he first learns the enormous potential harm that unchecked toxic drugs such as AZT cause. At the supposition that they may stop the virus expanding, they also do such harm to the body that they expose them to countless opportunistic diseases. Vass’s solution is proteins and vitamins that will actively improve the general health of a person with AIDS making them in better position to be able to deal with the virus.

When Woodroof learns that none of these are available in the USA, he starts an import business to supply them to other patients back in Dallas. He partners with Rayon a Trans person with HIV who he met in Clinic once as she can introduce him to all the people who would want to get their hands on these new drugs.

At every step of the way, he is aggressively pursued by the FDA as even though none of the drugs/proteins he sells are illegal, they have not been officially approved and the FDA, egged on by the Drug Companies who fund them, want to keep total control of every aspect. One of the ways to get around the Law is not to actually sell the drugs themselves, but sell memberships to his Club (for $400 a month) and this entitles each member to have whatever drugs they want.

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As supplies get tougher to obtain, and new drugs come on the market, Woodroof widens his search worldwide to anyone and everyone who would sell to him. And the FDA would use every legal loophole and obscure law on the Statute Books to seize all his supplies and issue countless fines. Meanwhile at the local hospital it is getting very obvious that patients on the AZT trial are doing much worse than other AIDS patients, but the Authorities anxious to keep receiving the much need Payments from the Drug Companies are happy to suppress all the official reports that confirm this, and the one Doctor that dares to question her Bosses’s ethics is fired.

Woodroof unquestionably started this venture purely to keep himself alive and to make money. He succeed with his first aim and lived 6 years after his initial diagnosis of just 30 days, and as he gradually got less paranoid of the gay community, he started allowing some people to have the drugs even though they couldn’t afford the Fee. It wast as much that he was any less of a homophobe, but as his own friends totally rejected him out of sheer fear, he started to be able to relate to being an ‘outcast’ like his fellow AIDS sufferers.

This film has been a long time coming. Scriptwrters Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack based it on the hundreds of interviews they had with Woodroof, and then waited 20 years for the movie to finally get made. Several directors and stars were attached to it until it ended up in the hands of Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee who’s claim to fame (so far) is C.R.A Z.Y. a very neat gay coming of age so far. His two principal stars lost a ton of weight for the parts Jared Leto as Rayon dropped 30 lbs and Matthew McConaughey a scary 50 lbs. They both gave powerful dazzling performances which will has got them several acting awards including Oscar Nominations for them both. It was definitely a stunning change in direction for McConaughey in particular who has established his career so far mainly in rom-coms, but for my two cents (!) it was Leto’s heart-breaking turn as the drug-addicted Rayon that totally bowled me over. It makes one appreciate that Leto has been off our screens far too long (5 years whilst he was touring with his Band)

These Clubs like Woodroof’s (there were others in other cities) played an important role alongside the wonderful ACT-UP movement to continually put the FDA on notice, and without their unceasing pressure, demands and activism so many of the drugs that would eventually help with people with AIDS would never have been made available in time.

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It’s a compelling story told with such passion and authority that both disturbs and delights. Unmissable.

Available to buy / view on: Amazon | Amazon Prime | iTunes

About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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