Movie Review: ‘The Normal Heart’ Is A Heart Wrenching Trip Into The AIDS Epidemic

Review By: Nathan Ligon

There are so many fantastic performances in The Normal Heart that I would hate to be picking nominees for the Emmy’s this year. Seriously, who in the world would you pick. I mean, Mark Ruffalo as the AIDS crusader, Ned Weeks, is a given. He is the center of this film and much of it is carried on his shoulders. Yet, Ruffalo is a just a piece of a big puzzle of actors who all get their chance to shine.

Matt Bomer gives the performance of his career as a New York Times reporter named Felix Turner. Felix starts off as just one of the many people that Ned tries to get on his side for the Gay Health Crisis group he is starting. However, it becomes quickly clear that they have a sexual and romantic chemistry. Their love is the emotional center of this film and Bomer gives it much of its heart.

 

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Taylor Kitsch is also good as the leader of the group, Bruce Niles. Bruce is a closeted man and closed off to opening up about himself. He would be the perfect face for his position if he would step out of his cocoon, but he is to scared. There are many good scenes between Kitsch and Ruffalo that dig deep into the heart of the gay movement and how difficult it was reconcile gay rights with the health crisis.

Then there is Joe Mantello as a gay government employee named Mickey Marcus. Mickey is fighting every single day of his life to try and help figure out what is causing the virus, but is consistently labeled as part of the government enemy that is trying to eradicate the gays by Ned. One scene where he finally breaks down is powerful and stirring.

Jim Parsons also gives an absolutely brilliant performance here and not in a very funny way. Sure, he gets a few comedic one liners, but the heart of his performance is in his broken eyes. There is a speech he gives at a funeral I this film that is so heartbreaking, I dare you to not be moved. His words come at the audience like a silent kick to the gut and slowly make their way into your heart.

Then there is the incomparable Julia Roberts as Dr. Emma Brookner. She may give the best performance of her career in this film. Emma is at the forefront of the AIDS epidemic and dealing with the bulk of the victims. She is strong and ruthless in her willingness to fight for a cure. Which makes her all the more broken when the government will not give her research the time of day. A scene in this film where she verbally destroys a government agent is truly one of her finest moments on film.

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If you haven’t gathered it yet, The Normal Heart is a film about AIDS. Sure, there have been a lot of movies about AIDS, but this is the first film to hit the disease from its inception. It is the first film to tackle the confusion of the gay community at its outset and the difficult time they had getting the country to notice they were dying. It is the first film to really show the real people at ground zero of the virus and what they did to help,save their fellow man.

This is an extremely difficult tale to tell and with the wrong script or the wrong actors it could have easily died. Luckily, director Ryan Murphy (Glee) had a brilliant play to adapt and a studio like HBO to support him. HBO has become such a haven for passion projects like this over the years that getting high caliber actors seems simple. Yet, you still have to give all these actors credit for taking on these roles. There is a lot of very homosexual stuff in this film and all the straight actors play it with a passionate conviction. I completely believed all of them.

There are plenty of technical aspects to this project and these people all deserve our admiration for their craft. I especially admire the way director Ryan Murphy and editor Adam Penn cut this thing. There really is hardly a dull moment to find in this 2 hour and 13 minute running time. Still, as good a job as they do, this movie belongs to its actors. They own every bit of emotion and ever ounce of tears.

This is a don’t miss for anyone that loves movies or cares about equality in our country. Many may find the sexual stuff off putting, but I suggest you sit through it. You may even surprisingly find yourself looking into these characters with the same eyes that you view a straight couple in a traditional romance. In other words, I think you will care.

Nathan Ligon

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