The Normal Heart is a film about a gay activist working to try and bring more awareness and attention to the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States during the 1980's. Written from Academy Award nominee Larry Kramer (based upon his play by the same name), and directed by Emmy winner Ryan Murphy (Glee, American Horror Story) the film stars Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, and Julia Roberts. It is a HBO production, which received nominated at the Emmy's in many categories.
Based upon actual events from during the 1980's, The Normal Heart is a retelling examination of the efforts made by gay activist Larry Kramer (as the script is based upon his own real-life experiences) to try and raise more awareness of the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic. While exploring his real encounters and struggles to fight for the search for a cure to HIV/AIDS, Kramer's script hits home on a personal level felt by his clear vision in bringing the story forward. The film version of The Normal Heart almost wasn't made for a long time (and supposedly for ten years Barbara Streisand held the rights to make it but never did). The seemingly shelved script has thankfully finally found a home through HBO.
The film version has finally been made under the direction of television creator Ryan Murphy. While the casting was genius for many of the parts, particularly Mark Ruffalo (who gives the performance his all), I thought Murphy could have done a better job with some of the main supporting cast members and that the performances were sometimes a bit inconsistent. I'd certainly chalk up a lot of this to his style of direction, which is often fast-paced and which continually serves up unfocused energies. I also thought the film's visual style countered the strengths of the screenplay with a more over-the-top approach at times, and occasionally this was a detriment to the film's storytelling.
The best thing about this entire film is the performances from some of the leading actors. Mark Ruffalo is absolutely remarkable in this film in the part of Ned Weeks, an activist who tries to fight for the research and funding needing to save the lives of those dying from AIDS. While telling the story of the character's political fight for the saving of lives, the story also focuses intently on his often impersonal relationship to his brother Ben (Alfred Molina), who has an inability to recognize Ned as being the same inside, and his dying lover Felix (Matt Bomer).
Working as one of the few doctors trying to help these dying gay men, Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts) continues to try and stand up for the importance of her research and the need existing for the United States government to help with the health crisis that seemed to not be prioritized by anyone in the government at all. There is also the part of an important activist, Tommy (Jim Parsons), who helps with the movement alongside Ned at different stages but somehow can't seem to commit to the challenges on the same level as the determined Ned (whose strength and dedication leads to him eventually even being kicked out of the gay politicking group).
This film is important as it tells a story rarely told in Hollywood or in film in general. The struggle and fight that was made to try and saves lives during the early years of AIDS in the 1980's is quite significant. Many thousands died while at every turn it seemed as though gay activists continually struggled to find any form of support at all (even from gay men/women, who often seemed to try and ignore the fact that so many were dying).
The story told by The Normal Heart is one of the power of love (the emphasis on the film's second act is largely about the loving relationship between Ruffalo's Ned and Bomer's Felix characters), and the massive importance of standing up and raising one's voice when needed. Ruffalo delivers an incredible performance here and works as the standpoint in delivering an important performance about the life of Kramer. This production of The Normal Heart isn't a perfect one but through the credible performances and quality dialogue, the film finds a voice that needs to be heard. At its core, this story revolves around the heart of people; a commonality of love which resides in the human spirit.
The Normal Heart arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. This slickly produced modern high definition presentation is well preserved with an impressive 30mbps bit-rate transfer that is free from any issues that really pertain to the film presentation. Occasionally the film sports a throwback look that is intentional due to the setting taking place in the 1980's, but this is certainly no fault of the transfer, which is sleek and with good color reproduction, clarity, depth, and detail.
This releases includes a 24 bit lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound presentation. The audio works quite well with the film in balancing the music soundtrack (with many classic 80's tracks) with the more dialogue focused and character-driven storytelling. French and Latin Spanish DTS audio is also provided on this release.
Subtitles are provided in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), French, and Latin Spanish.
The release contains one featurette: How to Start a War (9 min., HD) , which features interviews with Larry Kramer, Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, and others about the film and the real life story.
The Normal Heart received 12 2014 Emmy nominations and took home the prize of Outstanding Television Movie at the ceremony. The film is intelligent and brave with its storytelling, and features great performances bringing to life incredible dialogue from Kramer's screenplay. While the stylistic approach by Ryan Murphy is frequently inconsistent, the story and heart behind the film is a strong one and makes for a effecting production that is both moving and informative. This is an important story that needed to be told and shared and HBO Films has produced one of the most topical historical dramas of the year by doing so at last.