Based the acclaimed stage play by Larry Kramer, this HBO movie adaptation has a lot of Hollywood heavy hitters behind it, and they all delivered.
Heart wrenching, often uncomfortable, and frequently maddening, the movie portrays the early days of the AIDS epidemic from the perspective of a fierce gay rights activist. It highlights the sickeningly slow response on the part of government to do something about the deadly and mysterious illness that struck gay men first in the US.
It is not pleasant to realize, but it is undoubtedly the truth that government was slow to respond exactly because the initial victims were gay men. Society, particularly government, wanted to ignore their existence. They were as uncomfortable with homosexuality as audiences today are with how these men were treated.
One of the striking things about the movie is the understandable but heartbreaking way many of the men turned on one another. Some thought activist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) was too aggressive, and they held the naive belief that if they were polite and reasonable, government would have to do something to fund research and help the men who were dying at alarming rates. Some of the men were angry that Weeks advocated for abstinence, to help prevent the spread of the disease. They accused him of making sex for gay men dirty again, because they couldn’t face the reality that unprotected sex indeed was deadly. Denial wasn’t just for the cold, dismissive public officials ignoring the burgeoning epidemic.
Mark Ruffalo and Matt Bomer were nothing short of amazing. Bomer, in particular, showed dramatic talent that his previous characters didn’t allow him to show. Ruffalo simply reinforced his tremendous skills.
Julia Roberts, Jonathan Groff, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons and Alfred Molina were all highly impressive, as well. Every single actor to walk into a frame on this movie contributed realism and atmosphere to the movie.
This is the type of movie that many audiences are glad to have seen and experienced, but might not ever want to watch again, and that is a compliment. It is a testament to how incredibly affecting the movie is.