BO I know this is true ’from HBO lets Mark Ruffalo shine: Review

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The story of Dominick and Thomas Birdsey is unimaginably tragic.

Written by Wally Lamb, I know it’s true takes 900 pages to deliver devastating blow after blow in its Dickensian history of twin brothers grappling with their common past and their uncertain future. It was a remarkably painful reading that left your loved ones blinking tears, out of breath, and seriously considering leaving this story of “books” altogether.

Director Derek Cianfrance (The place beyond the pines, Blue ValentineThe television adaptation, broadcast this Sunday night on HBO, hits just as hard – but does it in much less time.

Thanks to the television gods for Mark Ruffalo.

Told in six one-hour episodes, Cianfrance’s version hits the plot points with admirable fidelity, leaving no very sad stones unreturned. Readers will recognize huge sections of the book told verbatim through the narrative and appreciate the series’s unwavering attention to Lamb’s emotional undertone.

Unfortunately, the captivating twists and turns of history take a turn for the soap once condensed. It is a creative obstacle that could have left the biting source material of the series a toothless shadow of itself on the screen, a glaring disappointment for readers and viewers. So thank you to the television gods for Mark Ruffalo.

From Lindsay Lohan to Parent trap (1998) and Armie Hammer in The social network to Paul Rudd in Living with yourself and Sarah Paulson in American Horror Story: Freak Show, playing twins has become one of the most sought after merit badges. Playing two fictional characters instead of one, and then having these two interact in a credible manner presents an obvious challenge for performers. It is impressive when it is well executed, but can seem fanciful when it is not.

Ruffalo’s passage as the Birdsey brothers could have gone both ways.

Dominick is a tired housewife from the world hardened by misfortune, much of which stems from the mental illness of her brother Thomas. A paranoid schizophrenic, the other Birdsey twin exists in the world as a kind of lightning rod. The book and series open on Thomas praying out loud in a public library before cutting his hand with a hunting knife. “It’s a sacrifice,” he tells Dominick, who arrives at the hospital with a flock of doctors and cops.

Ruffalo’s voice alone is enough to make you cry.

Both sides of this dynamic seem unfathomable to grasp as an actor – and exuding them both while facing the production complications of playing twins seems almost impossible.

And yet, Ruffalo is doing very well. Thomas’s magnetic panic collides with Dominick’s overwhelmed anxiety, accentuated by voices, postures and essences differentiated in a way that establishes two phenomenal characterizations scene by scene. Just keep yourself invested in the miserable events of the show, even when they are excessive.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Dominick’s narration. Describing the events of the couple’s past, Ruffalo imbues compassion for the brothers in equal measure. In episode 2, he laments an incident during a field trip where Dominick and Thomas became the target of a classroom joke when Thomas accidentally locked himself in the bathroom of the bus. Ruffalo’s voice alone is enough to make you cry. Two children acting on the excruciating memory simply send you overboard.

Is that the only couple I ever wanted?
Is that the only couple I ever wanted?

Image: ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA / HBO

These are easily my favorite roles from Ruffalo, with Hulk and Mike Flamhaff from 13 We continue 30 placing a third and fourth close. Supporting performances by Archie Panjabi, Juliette Lewis, Rosie O’Donnell, Melissa Leo and Imogen Poots are equally spectacular. Kathryn Hahn dazzles positively as Dominick Dessa’s ex-wife – and the couple’s chemistry is breathtaking.

For lovers of sincere drama, this family tragedy checks every box. I know it’s true won’t meet all of your television needs, but Ruffalo’s best career is one thing you can count on.

New episodes of I Know This Much Is True air on Sundays at 9:00 p.m. ET on HBO.



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