“The Normal Heart” enamours audiences, sheds light on AIDS epidemic

Death is terrifying. For some, love is even more scary. To have found someone you love after years of searching and having them be on the verge of death so quickly after is terror I hope to never fully fathom.

In 1981, the first case of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) was clinically recorded in the United States, paving way for an outbreak of panic predominantly on behalf of the gay community of New York. Pleas for help went unrecognised for multiple years before finally being addressed by President Ronald Reagan (who did explicitly use the word “AIDS,” but did nothing to aid it) in 1985, by which time thousands had perished at the hands of the lethal disease.

2014’s The Normal Heart addresses just that. Told from the eyes of established writer and later activist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo), the story follows his struggle to raise awareness about the impending epidemic especially in the wake of his boyfriend, Felix’s (Matt Bomer) infection.

The film’s best quality is probably the authenticity of its performers’ deliveries. In what is, in my opinion, Mark Ruffalo‘s best acting performance to date, he portrays an impulsive Ned. The character was favourite in the movie for how complex he is. On one hand, he’s a stubborn activist setting out to achieve what he wants by whatever means necessary — be they ethical or otherwise. On another, we see him as raw a human as humans can be, fighting for a love he’d spent his entire life looking for. Ruffalo does the character justice, showing both sides of him as passionately as he could. As I kept watching, I grew more and more attached to his character specifically; in his impulsive moments, in her anger, in his love, in his passion, and in his heartache. Truly a brilliant performance by a largely underrated actor in my eyes (he should be getting so much more attention than he already does), Mark Ruffalo continues to do know wrong.

In a Golden Globe winning performance, Matt Bomer excels as New York Times reporter, Felix Turner. What starts as a casual fling turns into much, much more as Felix is infected with the virus and has to fend for his life. And in his high moments and low, the actor grips the viewer like no other, being the primary example for the detereorating condition of AIDS patients. While I don’t know if it was a performance worth a Golden Globe, it’s still a great job by a great actor. And kudos for sropping 40 lbs for the role!

The star-studded cast featured Academy Award powerhouse Julia Roberts in yet another fantastic performance as Dr. Emma Brookner, the only physician at the time who agreed to work with AIDS patients.

Other cast members included Jim Parsons in an okay performance, one that grows on you immensely as you go forward with the film, Taylor Kitsch, Joe Montello who delivers the best monologue in the film, Alfred Molino, Finn Witrock and others.

What I loved most about the way the actors were directed was the presence of a moment or a scene where each and every actor/actress, from main to secondary, had a moment to shine, and each and every one of them took full advantage of it, delivering stellar acting moments.

And that, of course, is thanks to no other than director Ryan Murphy whose style is very palpable in the film, from his beautified, colourful shots (in Glee fashion) to his dramatized, chilling scenes such as that of the train — very American Horror Story. And this play with colours reflects on the movie’s tone: playful to dead serious. A mesh of both was an interesting combination that worked well in favour of the film.

To deliver such fantastic monologues, the cast needed good source material to work with. In came screenwriter Larry Kramer, who adapted his own play quite brilliantly.

The second half of the movie (especially those last 45 minutes or so) was better than the first. The relationship between Ned and Felix feels too forced at first, later becoming more relatable in the second half. Ned confesses his love and devotion to Felix countless times, but the first half barely shows the viewer what that is; what it is about Felix that’s so alluring to Ned emotionally.

Another thing I didn’t particularly like about the movie was the score. It was quite forgettable. I could think of so many songs while I was watching the film that would have been a better fit, but alas.

Overall, the movie did what it set out to do: raise awareness about AIDS, an health crisis that is still a very serious one, despite many treatments to lessen the disease’s severity. To date, over 36 million deaths have been recorded as a result of HIV/AIDS. A triumph of performance and direction, The Normal Heart is a bright addition to Ryan Murphy‘s brightly bleak resumé. 

RATING: 83/100

Image Sources: tvline.com, huffingtonpost.com, leblogducinema.com, mark-ruffalo.com, usnews.com, swide.com

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