The Normal Heart Movie Review
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."