When it comes to gripping and powerful films, HBO knows what they’re doing. Though they are TV movies, they actually feel like big Hollywood productions and often times, they are. Big name stars, expert directors, and brilliant screenplays are what comprise an HBO film these days and this is fortunate for the viewer because they are in for truly quality films. The extremely sobering The Normal Heart continues this trend of excellent filmmaking and the results are just divine.
Based on a heartbreaking true story, The Normal Heart follows Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), a writer and gay activist in the early 1980s who passionately tries to get the New York and United States governments to recognize a then mysterious virus (AIDS) as a global issue. The connection between homosexuals and AIDS is at the forefront of the discussion in the film as Weeks, his colleagues, and his lover Felix Turner (Matt Bomer) try to shine the spotlight on this deadly disease which soon turned into an epidemic.
With such a tough issue presented in The Normal Heart, it is understandable that such an all star cast decided to participate. Mark Ruffalo is fantastic and utterly believable as Weeks, giving the performance of his career so far. His performance as activist Weeks is a strong one, filled with passion and determination; Ruffalo has definitely submerged himself in the role. The same can be said about much of the rest of the cast, particularly Matt Bomer, who is impressive as Felix, Ned’s companion. The chemistry and interactions between these two is very solid. Julia Roberts is decent as Dr. Emma Brookner, a physician doing extensive research on AIDS and its effects on her patients who is just as determined about the AIDS epidemic as Weeks. Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, and Alfred Molina comprise much of the rest of the cast and their acting chops are displayed in full force here. The actor who steals the show, however, is Joe Mantello, who plays fellow activist Mickey Marcus. In one scene, Marcus breaks down and has a intense rant that will just blow you away.
As a film, The Normal Heart works very well. The film goes up and down and basically moves in waves. The best scenes are the ones where Ruffalo yells and fights for his beliefs. Based on the 1985 play of the same name, The Normal Heart is written by activist Larry Kramer and is the man’s autobiographical account of his life during that time. The subject matter is as serious as it gets and the story is a painful look at gay life and how AIDS destroyed lives. The dialogue is smart and raw and the actors speak the lines with ease and precision. Relationships between lovers, family members, doctors, and apathetic government officials are all presented here; the moments between Ned and Felix are of the utmost sadness and the tension between the activists is definitely at the center of attention.
Larry Kramer’s words are as much a star here as the actors speaking them. With a steady stream of anger and tension, heated conversations, and gut-wrenching reality, the script is truly the driving force behind The Normal Heart. With a style similar to that of David Mamet’s gritty human dramas, Larry Kramer is a true wordsmith. His life is a fascinating one and his heroic experiences fighting for gay rights is really the stuff of legends.
With quick cuts and a lot of shaky camerawork, Ryan Murphy has put together a film which definitely does not feel like a TV movie. His precision and expertise is shown in full force and the rapid camera movement is not only attractive to look at but enhances the story in many ways. Audiences will appreciate this technique as it makes the plot more enjoyable and Daniel Moder’s cinematography is equally exquisite, the fast-paced nature of the film reflecting his and Murphy’s talent.
HBO has hit another bullseye with The Normal Heart. Films that address and explore issues as important as AIDS are a strong wakeup call to those who are uninformed or simply don’t care. By placing well known actors in the film and utilizing Hollywood-quality filmmaking techniques, movies such as this are perhaps the most essential form of viewable entertainment. Not only are they entertainment, they can be an education, an education that everyone needs. Homosexuality should not be feared but in the 80s, it was. The AIDS epidemic scared everyone but it also made people aware of their health and the choices they needed to make to take better care of themselves. The Normal Heart hits all the right notes and then some. Thanks HBO.