Overview: Based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, who in 1985, after learning he had contracted the HIV virus, worked the system to attain and provide treatments not yet approved in America; Rated R; 117 Minutes.
McConaughey: Matthew McConaughey’s portrayal of Ron Woodroof is assured, observant, and committed. You see it in the sacrificed figure, his every gesture, and his convincing minute-by-minute projection of cowboy-clad machismo. You can smell the Old Spice on this once-pretty-now-ugly bastard. And not the new kind, your grandfather’s kind, with the screw tip cap and bottled sailor-scent musk. However, the form and function of this character is a disservice to McConaughey’s apparent ambition of creating intelligent and complex work.
Social Issues: This film doesn’t just distrust its viewers’ abilities of perception, it attempts to manipulate them. First, the movie points a dead-on stare to the southern-cowboy-archetype-culture’s inherent homophobia, but what might seem like bold diagnosis comes dangerously close to the projection of discriminatory otherness onto those who project discriminatory otherness. What should we really make of Woodroof’s elevation out of these poisonous attitudes? Why should we be expected to forgive Ron of his homophobic slurs and hate speech while the movie insists on continuing to antagonize his old bar-dwelling acquaintances? Was his integration and semi-acceptance not just the product of survival instinct? By this movie’s own logic, aren’t Ron’s old friends just an HIV-diagnosis away from cultural enlightenment? And should we not be bothered that we have another movie of the singular white heterosexual male coming to save the helpless and oppressed? And while I’m moralizing…
The FDA: Often, when artists attempt to frame emotional hot-button issues with a politically pointed camera, the tendency is to grab the biggest brush and paint broadly. That happens here. While the beginning of this film treads carefully in rational gray in regards to FDA regulations, by the end, the FDA is smeared in black. In this sense, I’m reminded of the stirring 2012 documentary How to Survive a Plague. While capturing the heroism and bravery of the AIDS-suffering protagonists, the cameras turn at too sharp an angle against the complexities of the actual issue. When one paints in black-and-white to conveniently illustrate the goodness of our good guys, the underlying suggestion is that there exists plain sight solutions, a switch flip. That is not the case. The issue of drug regulation is a complex one. To present the heightened emotional expression of these films as informative sources is intellectually dishonest. De-regulation or loose regulation would result in equally tragic numbers of death in patients just attempting to treat common conditions.
The High Point: Jared Leto is brilliant in his role as Rayon, Woodroof’s transgendered business partner and fellow AIDS patient. Rayon is captivating. Her presence onscreen provide both the most jarring and endearing moments. It is a shame that one of the great transgender figures in film is wasted on a movie with such a muddied and confused political motive.
Grade: C –