Mark Ruffalo needs no introduction. His career spans over decades, during the course of which he has done a wide variety of things. The latest brilliant Ruffalo performance is in HBO’s limited series ‘I Know This Much Is True.’ With this particular series, Ruffalo has not only been given the opportunity of a lifetime but also a redefining career moment. Besides him, the cast also includes Rosie O’Donnell and Juliette Lewis.
The only complaint amongst a plethora of compliments for I Know This Much Is True is that it came around the wrong time. The rest of this post we’ll do nothing but wax eloquent about Mark Ruffalo’s limited HBO series. Spotlight, Shutter Island, Dark Waters, In the Cut, Begin Again are some of the greatest works from Mark. Yet we’d place I Know This Much Is True in the most-coveted Mark Ruffalo list. The series is clearly his finest performance to date. We wouldn’t be surprised if another fantastic series/film takes this one’s place in the future. It’s Mark, after all, his talents ages like wine.
I Know This Much Is True is brilliant from the beginning. Apart from the fact that Mark plays two characters in the series, it has more people associated with it that need to be credited duly. By which we mean, due credit must be given to the writers of the series and the producers. Without the brilliant writing, the limited (unfortunate to be released in these times) series wouldn’t be where it is. We’d easily place this emotionally high powered series in the most coveted HBO mini-series.
The story is far from simple. Ruffalo plays twin brothers, who come from a deeply unsettling family. One of the brothers suffers from schizophrenia and paranoia. That’s Thomas, the troubled brother being looked after by his construction worker twin. That one from the set is named Dominick, who takes up the life-long duty of providing care to his sick brother. The series has six episodes in total and it is an adaptation of Wally Lamb’s 1990 novel by the same name. The book was an Oprah’s Book Club pick, spreading across 1000 pages. Woof! So for HBO, to be able to give it a TV adaptation was an uphill task. HBO essentially likes to capitalize on sappy family sagas, with members reeling from disturbing pasts. One such example in that direction would be Big Little Lies.
The question is, why do we keep saying that I Know This Much Is True is a grim series? Well, have ya looked around? As if there wasn’t enough worry and misery in the world, this one comes to drown us deeper in the miseries of the human world. Not so many people will find happiness in watching I Know This Much Is True. Because not so many people are holed in their luxurious homes, away from the stark reality of a COVID-19 affected world. In debating its wrong timing, we are not for a split second taking away the beautifully done, six-episode series. We’re just saying that seeing Ruffalo play two twin brothers in a miserable tale could have waited a while. As per the announcement made in January, it was slated for a Spring release, just FYI. I Know This Much Is True has every theme you would want to avoid in these times: self-harm, assault, child abuse, rape, domestic abuse, cancer, SIDS, self-harm, car accidents, racism, and animal cruelty. The series essentially begins with Thomas physically harming himself as retribution for America’s sins. He spends time in a mental health facility, leaving his lonely co-dependent brother to fight for his release.
Why does Dominick take up the responsibility? It’s because their late mother assigned him this role. Since he’s left with this burdensome task, he’s morally obligated to stick with it, till the end of time. In case you are wondering, the late-mother of these boys is played by Melissa Leo. Hence the identical twins, Birdsey brothers: Dominick and Thomas live in a loop of dependency. Thomas would be lost without Dominick too. Dominick’s failed marriage compounded by his brother’s paranoid schizophrenia leads the former to settle down permanently with his brother.
Thomas’ Paranoia is characterized by the fear of the government, America’s sins, anger, and needy behavior. Being divorced of course isn’t the end of the world, we think Thomas knows that pretty well. But seeing his brother’s state, he stays back in their world and puts a pause on chasing his own dreams. Thomas is incarcerated in a mental health ‘prison’ and his brother works to get him into a more homely facility.
The series also revels in the past, in that Dominick when he efforts to free Thomas, he’s constantly reminded of his scarred past. There are flashbacks of the Vietnam War–the twins were in college back then. If Vietnam disappears, Dominick is reminded of his emotionally disastrous marriage with wife (Kathryn Hahn). We are given a peek into their Italian heritage. Their grandfather, Birdsey migrated to America, three generations ago to the industrial town known as Three Rivers.
It isn’t just their life, but their town that paints a gloomy and a miserable picture. The entire series is shot in blues and gray. It isn’t hard to guess why both brothers are struggling with emotional hygiene. As much as we have praised Ruffalo’s ability to play two very different sets of characters, the story gets complicated with time only to wear us down. It is not clear if there’s a happy ending to it, but we think some sort of peace agreement between the two, amongst themselves and the blue-gray town will be achieved by the end.
Once again, Ruffalo’s performance will garner him accolades at multiple award shows–if at all award shows happen. Which of the brothers is more powerful? Thomas, of course. While Dominick privately rivets in grief, Thomas is the most vocal. Self assaults, cries, and attacking hospital staff is business as usual for Thomas. While caring and fighting for Thomas is business as usual for Dominick.
I Know This Much is True premieres Sunday, May 10 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.