Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Review: The Normal Heart
Written by Larry Kramer
Directed by Ryan Murphy
Felix: "Men do not naturally not love. They learn not to."
I missed the original transmission for this on SkyAtlantic but thankfully we now live in a world where repeats and online catching up is a thing and having sat through this two and a half movie on Saturday, it certainly made for some uncomfortable viewing.
The Normal Heart is not the first time that HBO have adapted a provocative stage play focusing on the crisis of AIDS within the gay community as it was eleven years ago that Tony Kushner's Angels In America had been a two part/six hour miniseries for the popular cable station and proved to be a success. Once again, the station had a success on their hands with this stellar adaptation of Larry Kramer's famous play.
Bringing in Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story, etc) in to direct the project was the first smart move but as great as Murphy's direction is, the true standouts are the cast and each and every single one of them go above and beyond to deliver some of their best performances to date.
Jonathan Groff for example only appeared in this production for about ten minutes and was one of the first onscreen victims to die of AIDS and delivered an utterly heartbreaking performance, while his lover, Bruce (Taylor Kitsch) attempts to move on, only to have another lover die of the same plight during the half way point of the movie.
The main focus on the movie did pivot primarily on Mark Ruffalo's writer, Ned Weeks - a man desperate to get the government to step and raise awareness for the AIDS crisis, even if it meant stepping on the toes of his fellow community at the same time (we see a lot of spirited arguments with Ned and his friends and lover, Felix Turner, played by Matt Bomer), while being backed by Julia Roberts wheelchair bound Doctor Brookner.
The love story with Ned and Felix was another big focus in this movie. I have to admit that I found myself relating to Ned as a character and his reaction when he learned that Felix had become infected too was utterly heartbreaking to watch. Can I just say that both Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer really excelled during the second half of this movie?
However I should also point out that there wasn't a single bad performance in this production. Denis O'Hare didn't play a very sympathetic character but was still superb in the one scene he appeared in while Jim Parsons was an absolute joy as the more optimistic and proactive, Tommy. I also found Tommy's keeping the numbers of his fallen friends from his rolodex in a drawer one of the most poignant moments of the entire production.
This really was one of those productions where every single character and actor kept your attention. Ned was the character I found myself relating to the most but I loved his relationships with Felix, Brookner, Bruce, Tommy and the more complicated one with his brother, played by Alfred Molina.
The end of this movie wasn't particularly hopeful and given the subject matter, perhaps that was wise. While times have changed and there is thankfully more awareness and living with HIV no longer is stigmatised as a death sentence, this movie covered the years of 1981-84 and while I was born only a year after that, this movie certainly had the desire effect it was setting out to do. Overall, a stunning production that Kramer, Murphy, the cast and crew and HBO should all be very proud of.
Rating: 9 out of 10