Day 90: Dallas Buyers Club


This Monday, I’m back to my regularly scheduled watching of the Academy Awards Best Picture nominated movies. My attempt last week was abandoned in favor of saving a kitten’s life. (He is doing great, btw.) I went to the DVD store to rent Nebraska again and discovered it was checked out. I moved on to Dallas Buyers Club for today’s first.

Dallas Buyers Club was nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor. It won in three categories: Best Make-up & Hairstyling, Best Supporting Actor for Jared Leto and Best Actor for Matthew McConaughey. The movie also stars Jennifer Garner and was directed by Jean-Marc Vallee.  It is rated R and has a run time of 1 hour and 57 minutes.

I had seen a couple of previews for this movie and clips during the Oscars broadcast. I didn’t fully understand, from those brief viewings, what this movie was about. Based on a true story, Dallas Buyers Club is the story of electrician and rodeo fan Ron Woodroof, played by Matthew McConaughey, an ordinary, fun loving guy who gets a life changing diagnosis. He is HIV positive. In the mid 1980’s, HIV and AIDS were poorly understood and only one trial drug, AZT, was available as a possible FDA approved treatment.

Woodroof is given a month to live. After the AZT he obtains illegally almost kills him, Woodroof begins a journey of discovery about his illness and alternative treatments that are available. He finds an ally in a doctor in Mexico who teaches Ron that there are non toxic drugs and vitamins that can help fight this killer disease, none FDA approved or available in the US. With the help of Rayon, played by Jared Leto, these two unlikely entrepreneurs establish the Dallas Buyers Club as a way to get drugs and vitamins from around the world to those who desperately need them. The Club charges a monthly fee to its clients in exchange for all the drugs and treatments they need. The FDA looks the other way until the operation and the number of people being helped grows too large. It then becomes a war between Woodroof and his colleagues and the FDA, who refuses to approve the unconventional methods being used to extend the lives of AIDS patients.

Jared Leto’s portrayal of the transvestite Rayon was beautifully tragic and worthy of recognition and the numerous awards he won. A gentle, tortured soul, Rayon was key to building the Club. McConaughey gave an outstanding performance as a man on a mission to save himself and as many others as possible, before time ran out for him also. I believe he deserved the Best Actor award.

This was an amazing movie and a glimpse into a world I’m not familiar with. I felt compassion and deep sadness as I watched Rayon’s life slip away. I understood Woodroof’s anger over the way the FDA regulated and controlled which drugs were available for treatment and their apparent lack of interest in alternative treatments.  

Frustrated by being blocked at every turn by the FDA, Ron Woodroof laments to his doctor friend, Eve, played by Jennifer Garner, “Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting for a life I ain’t got time to live. I want it to mean somethin’.” Laying her head on his shoulder, she assures him, “It does.” I can join her in saying the same thing to the real Ron, who died in 1992, of AIDS…your life mattered. You made a difference. And your life continues to impact others. What a legacy to leave.

Day 76: Watch Captain Phillips


Today’s first was to watch Captain Phillips, the second of the nine Best Picture nominated films. Last week, Gravity took me into space. Tonight, the story took place in the open seas off the coast of Somalia. As in space, when disaster strikes, being at sea far from shore and other ships, leaves you vulnerable and then self-reliant as you wait for help.

Captain Phillips was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for first time actor, Barkhad Abdi. It did not win in any categories. The movie stars Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi and is directed by Paul Greengrass. It’s rated  PG-13 and has a run time of 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Based on an actual event that took place in 2009, Captain Phillips is the story of the hijacking of the unarmed ship, Maersk Alabama. During the incident, merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips was taken hostage by Somali pirates, led by Abduwali Muse. The movie is well crafted, superbly acted and very intense. I knew the final outcome of the situation, as far as the captain was concerned, but I didn’t know HOW it was all resolved, nor what happened to the pirates. I was completely caught up in the story until the credits rolled.

Tom Hanks gives a gritty, masterful performance. I’ve been a fan of his since his start on television. He has the kind of soulful eyes that speak far more than his words. I’m surprised he didn’t receive a nomination for Best Actor. Newcomer Barkhad Abdi was amazing as the pirate leader, Muse. He has an intensity and presence that kept my eyes on him in every scene he appeared in. His nomination was well deserved, and I hope to see him in future films.

I was struck by the similarities between the two men, Phillips and Muse, both living lives not entirely within their own control. Both men left their homes to accomplish a routine job and became ensnared in a life changing event. When Muse, explaining to Captain Phillips why he’s a pirate, says, “I have bosses…”, Phillips answers with grim understanding, “We all have bosses.” As the movie progressed, Hanks’ character become more basic and simple, intent on survival, while Abdi’s became more complex, more desperate, as he realized he was in a situation way over his head.

The compassion Phillips had for his captors was touching. He assured the four men that they could take the $30,000 he had given them and go home, without harm, if they would just release him. Even when the US Navy showed up, the Somali men would not back down, could not release their hostage and return home without more money, without leverage. According to Muse, “I came too far, I can’t give up”. Those words sealed their fate.

Throughout the incident, Captain Phillips heard Muse say many times, “Everything’s gonna be alright.” Muse spoke to reassure himself as much as Phillips, perhaps. As the Navy positioned themselves to resolve the situation, their negotiators eerily echoed Muse’s words, “Everything’s gonna be okay.” Like Phillips, until the very end, I wasn’t sure that either side spoke the truth.

This is a powerful movie. I highly recommend it.