It's taken nearly 30 years to bring Larry Kramer's passionate, award-winning play to the screen, but this high-calibre production is a genuine stunner. Even if it was made for television, it carries the gut-punch of a great drama, adding a deeply personal perspective to recent Aids epidemic documentaries like How to Survive a Plague and We Were Here.
At the centre is the outspoken writer Ned (Mark Ruffalo), who has already ruffled feathers in the 1981 New York gay community with his rants against promiscuity. So when a close friend (Jonathan Groff) comes down with what has been labelled "gay cancer", he has a new cause to get angry about. He gathers his buddies including Bruce, Tommy and Mickey (Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello) to form an action group, working with Emma (Julia Roberts), a doctor who suspects that the disease is sexually transmitted. But the community isn't willing to give up its hard-fought sexual freedoms. And as Ned falls for Times journalist Felix (Matt Bomer), he becomes increasingly outraged that the government is doing nothing while thousands of people die.
Kramer's script is so intimate and raw that it brings the characters to vivid life, giving each of the actors a show-stopping scene of his or her own. Ruffalo's complex and remarkably transparent performance holds everything together beautifully. Ned's relationships and confrontations all pack a powerful punch, from the romantic scenes with Bomer's lively Felix to darker strain with his brother (Alfred Molina) or an all-out battle with a politician (Corey Stoll). And Roberts gets some pungent scenes of her own, most notably a fiery rant against a room full of callous congressmen.
Director Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) also adds some clever touches that further deepen the themes and make them resonate today. And while there are refreshingly light moments along the way, it's the eloquent dialogue that adds real power to the story. Especially with bracing observations like Tommy's horrified question in the face of government inaction: "Why are they letting us die? They just don't like us." Or when Felix realises what being closeted has done to gay men through history: "Men do not naturally not love. They've learned not to."
Run time: 132 mins
In Theaters: Sunday 25th May 2014
Distributed by: HBO Films
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Television, HBO Films, Plan B Entertainment, Ryan Murphy Productions, Blumhouse Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%
Fresh: 45 Rotten: 3
IMDB: 8.0 / 10
Director: Ryan Murphy
Producer: Scott Ferguson
Screenwriter: Larry Kramer
Starring: Mark Ruffalo as Ned Weeks, Jim Parsons as Tommy Boatwright, Matt Bomer as Felix Turner, Julia Roberts as Emma Brookner, Jonathan Groff as Craig, Taylor Kitsch as Bruce Niles, Alfred Molina as Ben Weeks, Denis O'Hare as Hiram Keebler, Finn Wittrock as Albert, Remy Auberjonois as Examining Doctor, Joe Zaso as Ernesto, Joe Mantello as Mickey Marcus, BD Wong as Buzzy, Danielle Ferland as Estelle, Corey Stoll as John Bruno
Also starring: Scott Ferguson
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