Movie Review: The Normal Heart

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Alfred Molina, BD Wong, Jonathan Groff, Denis O’Hare, Corey Stoll, Stephen Spinella, Finn Wittrock

Directed By: Ryan Murphy

This movie is everything you’ve heard it is. It’s deeply affecting, powerful, and game changing for HBO in the Emmy race. It would have been interesting to see The Normal Heart play into the Oscar race, because I don’t think it’s just a damn fine TV movie, I think it’s a contender all the way around.

Mark Ruffalo is fantastic, definitely giving his best performance…ever. I mean, he’s a great actor, and has a plethora of performances considered “great”. This is a commanding lead performance, which we usually don’t get from Ruffalo. He’s almost never the focus of the whole film. Also, a really commanding performance from Julia Roberts. The speech she gives to the medical professionals was one of my favorite moments in the film. Matt Bomer is also terrific as a dashingly beautiful man completely destroyed by the AIDS virus over the course of the film.

The two most surprising performances come from Jim Parsons, who hasn’t really gotten to showcase his dramatic skills before. He’s downplayed most of the movie, until his speech at a funeral, and finally at the end when he puts away the rolodex card. Heartbreaking work. My favorite performance came from Joe Mantello, who loses his shit toward the end of the movie, and gives a speech about how frustrating it is to fight a disease he doesn’t know how to fight. You can tell this actor is brilliant, and deeply undervalued as an actor. He should be featured much more in movies, and deserves an Emmy nomination for his work (possibly even a win).

I felt Kitsch had a good moment, expanding his range here, but he’s drowned by better actors. Still, it’s a career reboot for him. I mean… TAYLOR KITSCH. Right? Who really saw that coming? Jonathan Groff has a few brief, good moments. Alfred Molina wasn’t given anything great to work with, and spends most of the movie looking stoic, but doing a good job of being stoic.

I wasn’t crazy about how the film ends, with regards to Ruffalo’s Ned Weeks and his work. Since the film basically ends shortly after he gets fired, and we’re told in the end credits of the rising death toll, and continued daily infections of HIV, it’s almost as if Larry Kramer is blaming gays for not being more like Ruffalo, and taking a more aggressive approach to AIDS. The film basically says, we fired him… and it got worse before it got better. It’s a strange message, especially since you sympathize with Ruffalo’s character the whole film. It’s odd that he seems like the only one strong enough, or loud enough to fight.

That’s just being nitpicky, and that factor is erased several times by brutally honest moments from aforementioned actors. The acting in this film is off the charts, much like Angels In America, where so many actors deserved accolades. Here, Ruffalo, Roberts, Bomer, Mantello, and Parsons deserve nominations. That’s three supporting actors though, and I fear that not all of them can fit into an increasingly difficult category as the quality of miniseries continues to rise.

If you don’t have HBO, you’ll have to wait until August to see The Normal Heart on DVD. I suggest you do. This film demands to be seen.

FINAL GRADE: A

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