The Normal Heart (Blu-ray)

August 18, 2014 5 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Matt Malouf

Plot: What’s it about?

The Normal Heart is a TV Movie that premiered on HBO. It’s set during the early 1980’s during the rise of the AIDS epidemic. It stars Marc Ruffalo as Ned Weeks. He’s an openly gay writer who is also the founder of an of an HIV advocacy group. The film is fictional, but rings true on the harsh reality of millions of people dying of a virus that the Government turned their back on for a long time. Ned and the members of the group go to desperate lengths to call attention to this disease and get some kind of government funding. They’re constantly turned down, even the mayor won’t hear their plea. Even the Doctors refuse to treat many of the HIV stricken patients, that is, until Weeks meets Dr. Emma Brookner (Julia Roberts). She is confined to a wheelchair after being affected by polio at a young age. Brookner informs Weeks that several gay men are getting sick due to their immune systems essentially shutting down. Eventually, the group gathers enough money to warrant the attention of one of the Mayor’s assistants, but their struggles continue when they still can’t get the funding since many don’t see the epidemic as a priority. This becomes the basic framework the film follows. The plot is relatively simple, but the acting is top notch and the story effective, although not always easy to watch.

We had another AIDS themed film recently – Dallas Buyers Club. While I preferred that one, this is not without its own merits. As mentioned earlier, the acting is in top form and the story is intriguing and not always easy to endure. The film does run a bit long, and could’ve used some editing, especially in the second half, but is still effective. Some moments do veer into melodrama, but the importance of the story and its message are what help elevate it. You don’t hear as much about AIDS these days as you did during the 80’s and early 90’s and that obviously a good thing, but it’s sad to know that it was ignored for the longest time. While it’s not something that I think requires multiple viewings, The Normal Heart is worth seeing thanks in large part to the impressive cast, led by Ruffalo. It also treats its premise with respect and doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the early stages of the HIV epidemic.

Video: How’s it look?

I’d caught a bit of this when it aired a few months ago, but didn’t have the time to sit through the entire film. Having now seen it on Blu-ray, The Normal Heart does encompass the spectrum when it comes to style, color and feel. By and large this 1.78:1 AVC HD image is rock solid with some scenes looking sharp, rich and crisp and others a more deliberate somber and grey’ish look to them. Detail, as we might expect, is sharp and contrast works well with no signs of artifacting or errors. While this isn’t a traditional “studio film” it still looks amazing on Blu-ray and will not disappoint.

Audio: How’s it sound?

There are some films that are just asking you to turn up your receiver and others that rely on, well, dialogue to carry it. This is one of the latter. While not a bad soundtrack in the least, the majority of this film is driven by vocals and they sound about as good as it gets. There are some ambient effects thrown in for good measure, but I’d put this on par with a good surround mix. Granted the DTS HD Master Audio track does flex its muscle a few times, but this delivers the bottom line and surely won’t disappoint.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Given the high-profile cast and subject matter, I’d have hoped for more than just one feature, but alas…

  • How To Start a War – Clocking in around ten minutes, the lone supplement on this disc is rather interesting as we’re treated to a few of the stories that inspired the film as well as some interviews with members of the cast: Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo and Writer Larry Kramer among others.

Disc Scores