The Normal Heart
In a nutshell: A good play but a poor movie. Ryan Murphy lost the impact of Larry Kramer's work and words through poor direction and cheap visual dramatics. Notwithstanding that, the acting from the main cast - Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina, Taylor Kitsch (surprise!) and Jim Parsons - stood out against what can only be described as blatant (gay) male (celebrity) sexploitation.
Murphy is a talented producer. Without a doubt his mind has frequently captured the zeitgeist of our times. But as a director, and even writer, he is mediocre at best. He has no vision nor style. A copycat with ideas that do not translate. Robert's Eat, Pray, Love suffered tremendously because of that. So was surprised she agreed to this production - a juicy role no doubt attracted the talented actress.
Murphy has a tendency to indulge in his fantasies and excessiveness, not knowing when subtlety is stronger than brashness. Even the sex scene between Ruffalo and Bomer ended up being unerotic and un-sensual.
The other big fault in this production is that Murphy treat this movie as if it was a play. Onscreen scene transitions were mostly awkward as if stage lights shut off, actors transit, and stage lights back on. He directed his actors as if they were on the stage, and the camera got lost not knowing who or what or where to focus. Some scenes worked especially if there were only two characters or a wide-angled lens used.
Unfortunately the cinematography by Danny Moder (Roberts' husband) did not help the visuals. Simple and basic with elementary use of lights and shadows that served no purpose.
Let's talk about the affecting.
Ruffalo is good actor. Here he was good. Not his best. His mannerisms were too affected and one could blame the director on that. He was at his best when he played opposite Roberts and Molina. Pity those scenes were far and few between. Bomer and Kitsch, unfortunately, could not parlay as well.
Bomer gave the best work of his career - doing a MacConaughey. His love story with Ruffalo was equally sweet, romantic and touching, but the dramatic scenes lacked heft and sincerity - the irony!
Kitsch was barely recognisable, and definitely made a lasting impression. But like his silver screen counterpart - Bomer - his acting was still not up to par with the emotional core of Kramer's words. Kitsch just need to choose his big screen projects more carefully.
Roberts deserved her Emmy nominations. Her few scenes were all powerful and effective. Ever since her "comeback" in August: Osage County, Roberts has been on a roll, but one does miss her comedic and rom-com chops. Here, she and Ruffalo shared a more intimate relationship than Ruffalo and Bomer.
Molina also gave a strong performance. His was the opposite of Roberts, with a more restrained portrayal as Ruffalo's onscreen brother struggling to accept and love him for who he is and not what he is. Their scenes together felt more staged than most others, but were effective as it was usually just two of them in the same shot.
Lastly, Jim Parsons. Re-playing the character he played on Broadway, Parson was the comedic relief and also the true normal heart of the show. And the stage experienced definitely helped as Parson seemed most relaxed and natural of the lot.
Angels of America still remained one of the best on screen (large or small) depiction of the AIDS epidemic and gay rights of the 80s.