When we first meet Matthew McConaughey in the role of Ron Woodruf we really detest him. Homophobic, promiscuous, foul-mouthed and self-absorbed, Woodruf ends up in hospital, incredulous that he has contracted HIV, which he sees as "the gay disease". He is told that he has only days to live.
In hospital he meets Rayon (played by Jared Leto) a transvestite, also a victim of HIV.
Convinced that the "treatments" he is being given by the hospital are useless, he makes his way to Mexico, and the unapproved treatments he is given there help him to beat the deadline, and re-gain some of his strength.
Always with an eye to the main chance, Ron with Rayon finds a way to market the un-approved drugs, where technically people pay for membership of a club, not for the vitamins, anti-viral drugs, and proteins that the club supplies.
The Food and Drug Administration pursue him relentlessly, despite, or perhaps because of the apparent success of his treatments.
Both McConaughey and Leto are superb, in roles which are both physically and emotionally demanding. McConaughey lost 40 pounds to play the part. Leto becomes a living skeleton as his character fights a losing battle with AIDs.
Jennifer Garner, as a doctor who ends up disillusioned with the approved treatments, and convinced of the efficacy of the Mexican treatments, adds depth and caring to the film.
This raw, confronting edgy film, which is based on a real person, and a real confrontation between untested but effective drugs, and an inflexible pharmaceutical and legal system, is well worth seeing, if only to remind us of how far short we fell in the eighties in our response to the crisis of AIDs, and how far short we still fall to the same pandemic in Africa.