In telling this remarkable true story, director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria) and his gifted cast keep the characters and events so grounded that we can't help but get caught up in their story. The film never asks for our sympathy, but it earns it over and over again as it explores a disgraceful period in American history when businesses and the government essentially condemned millions to death by withholding proper treatment for HIV and Aids.
It begins in 1985, when homophobic womaniser Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is told that he has just a month to live. Refusing to believe that he has the same disease that has just killed Rock Hudson, he ignores his doctors (Garner and O'Hare) to find his own supply of AZT, which makes him even more ill. So he heads to Mexico to find a range of treatment the US government has refused to approve, and he imports them himself, creating a members' club to subvert the law. This requires that he set his deep-seated prejudice aside so he can work with the transgendered Rayon (Leto). But a government lawyer (O'Neill) is determined to shut him down.
Yes, it's deeply infuriating to watch the American system try so hard to stop Woodruff from saving lives. Government officials continually outlaw his effective treatments so they can pawn off the toxic, over-priced AZT instead. So Woodruff travels the world in search of new medicine, and his business of course takes off. Vallee cleverly cuts through the 1980s period details to reveal Woodruff's earthy tenacity and an overpowering sense of humanity.
McConaughey is astonishing as Woodruff, maintaining the character's abrasiveness right to the end but letting us see tiny glimpses of his change of heart. This is most effective in his subtly shifting friendship with Rayon, played with such unnerving honesty by Leto that we can't help but fall completely in love with him. Watching these two very different people take on an unjust system is seriously inspirational, especially as it reveals that the secret to changing the world is discovering a way to empathise with people you don't necessarily agree with.
Run time: 117 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd November 2013
Box Office USA: $27.3M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: Universal Studios, Voltage Pictures, Truth Entertainment, Unversal Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Fresh: 214 Rotten: 15
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Producer: Robbie Brenner, Rachel Winter
Screenwriter: Craig Borten, Melisa Wallack
Starring: Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, Jennifer Garner as Dr. Eve Saks, Jared Leto as Rayon, Denis O'Hare as Dr. Sevard, Steve Zahn as Tucker, Michael O'Neill as Richard Barkley, Dallas Roberts as David Wayne, Griffin Dunne as Dr. Vass, Kevin Rankin as T.J., Donna DuPlantier as Nurse Frazin, Deneen Tyler as Denise, J.D. Evermore as Clint, Ian Casselberry as Hispanic Orderly, Jane McNeill as Francine Suskind, Juliet Reeves as Rodeo Girl
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