GT Screen

Review: The Normal Heart, starring Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo

It's the film we're calling 'the most important release of the year'...

Any film about HIV/Aids is going to be bleak because, fact, it's not the sunniest of subjects. The Normal Heart is no different, but in amidst the blur of salty tears (be warned, you'll drop a few of those) lies one of the most searing, rousing and, yep, that word, important releases of the year. It also happens to be directed by Ryan Murphy, the guy who gave us Glee, and, though there aren't song and dance numbers, he knows a tune when he hears one (Spotify Simon & Garfunkel's The Only Living Boy in New York).

Based on the blistering, autobiographical play by Larry Kramer – pioneering gay rights activist and Oscar-nominated screenwriter (Woman in Love – with good ol' Babs) – The Normal Heart tackles the outbreak of the HIV/Aids virus in New York in the 1980s, specifically the lack of response to the crisis. It's taken Murphy over four years to get a screen version off the ground and the wait has been worth it, with a screenplay from Kramer, sting intact, and the starriest of casts, namely Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons and a certain Julia Roberts.

That's a whole heap of charisma and Ruffalo takes centre stage as Ned Weeks, a Jewish-American writer (inspired by Kramer), who, heading home from a fun weekend on Fire Island, spots a small New York Times article about a 'gay cancer' killing men in the city. Interests piqued, he visits wheelchair-bound doctor Emma Brookner (Roberts). Having treated the earliest victims, she believes the disease (which at this point hasn't even been given a name) is being spread sexually.

As the virus evolves into an epidemic, with more and more men getting infected and dying, including friends, lovers, Ned and his comrades, notably investment banker Bruce (Kitsch) and hospital administrator Tommy (Parsons), establish an organisation – what will latter become the Gay Men's Health Crisis – to provide support and, hopefully, find answers. Except the powers that be, the media, politicians, don't want to acknowledge what's going on, don't want to acknowledge the deaths of thousands of gay men. Ned, though, won't be ignored.

It's all too easy to forget about the past, about a painful chapter in which an entire generation of individuals was wiped out not only by a devastating condition but toxic ignorance. This intense, impeccably-acted drama – special mention goes to a heart-breaking Bomer as Ned's boyfriend Felix – hammers home the importance of having a voice and being heard, even when people clap their ears shut. Great progress has been made in the gay man's journey, however, as battle lines shift and change, The Normal Heart is a rallying cry to keep the good fight going.

The Normal Heart debuts on HBO on 25 May at 9pm (US time), and on Sky Atlantic on 30 May. Check your local listings for details, or for more info and trailers for the film, click here.

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