The Normal Heart Blu-ray Review
Mark Ruffalo bursts with energy in THE NORMAL HEART, an HBO movie about the early years of the AIDS epidemic. That frantic energy was almost enough to derail this movie though. THE NORMAL HEART was based on a play with the same name by Larry Kramer. He also wrote the screenplay to this.
Ruffalo plays Ned Weeks (basically a stand-in for Kramer), a successful writer who lives in New York City. The film starts in 1981 in Fire Pines Island. Ned is there for the birthday of Craig Donner (Jonathan Goff). Craig collapses on the beach and has trouble blowing out his candles. This alerts Ned that there is something going on. When he is returning back to New York, he spies an article about a disease that is targeting gay men.
At first Ned does not want to become a leader in the cause against this deadly disease. He doesn’t think he is up for it. He visits with Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts) to get more information. Emma is blunt to say the least. She was stricken with polio at a young age and confined to a wheelchair. She knows the pain that comes with a crippling illness. Her one piece of advice to Ned for the homosexual community is to abstain from sex. She thinks that is the cause of the disease. Emma encourages Ned to start a group that will educate the masses and help those in need.
Ned comes in contact with Felix Turner (an excellent Matt Bomer), a New York Times writer about getting the word out about AIDS. Felix doesn’t have the sway to do this, but the couple does start dating shortly after. Ned forms the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) with some of his friends that include Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch), Mickey Marcus (Joe Mantello), Tommy Boatwright (Jim Parsons) and others.
Ned is full of bluster and vigor. He attacks people that he thinks are not helping the cause. He pressures the mayor’s office for money to fight the disease. He even outs people like Mayor Ed Koch. Ned wants the support of his straight brother Ben (Alfred Molina) and his influential law firm. This causes a lot of tension between the two men. They just don’t see eye to eye on various things. The GMHC realizes that Ned is a loose cannon and elects Bruce the president of the organization over the objections of Ned. Bruce is more low key in his style. Kitsch delivers a nice performance that goes against his normal characters of swagger and bravado. There is a nuisance here that is hard to pull off and he does it with great finesse.
One of my favorite scenes involved Tommy at his desk. When Tommy hears that another one of his friends or colleagues have died from AIDS, he takes their index card out of his rolodex. He puts the card with the others that have died. The stack of cards just gets bigger and bigger. It is a powerful scene that doesn’t hit you over the head with histrionics. It just tells you that many people are dying and they are not forgotten by Tommy.
The one major complaint I have with THE NORMAL HEART is all the yelling that goes on. It wears you out after a while. The main culprit is Mark Ruffalo. It was strange not hearing him yell for 10 minutes. Ned yells at the doctor, politicians, friends, his lover, his brother and everyone in between. This is a powerful story, but a little subtlety would have gone a long way. This piece first originated as a play. I would think it would work better on the stage where actors do have to yell their lines so the people in the balcony can hear them.
THE NORMAL HEART tells an important tale about a terrible disease. Even though the message gets lost at times through the shouting, it is an important piece to watch.
Video: This is not really a visual film, but the transfer is good.
Audio: The sound comes through nicely on the Blu-ray.
How to Start a War (9:40): Some of the actors and Screenwriter Larry Kramer discuss the story and the AIDS movement.