‘I Know This Much Is True’ review: An extraordinary Mark Ruffalo cannot save an ultimately exhausting watch

‘I Know This Much Is True’: The cast is excellent, led by Mark Ruffalo’s extraordinary turn as twins Dominick and Thomas

‘I Know This Much Is True’: The cast is excellent, led by Mark Ruffalo’s extraordinary turn as twins Dominick and Thomas  

At a time when everyone revels in nostalgia, this show stubbornly looks at history with grimy glasses and leaves you emotionally bruised

Six hours of watching the evil hand fate deals out to twins Dominick and Thomas Birdsey is exhausting. Every time you think nothing worse can happen, it does. The infinitesimal sliver of light at the end of a long, horrific tunnel that is the twins’ life, is a tiny reward for the emotional bruising you have gone through.

Yes, the cast is excellent, led by Mark Ruffalo’s extraordinary turn as Dominick and Thomas. Melissa Leo as the twin’s mum, John Procaccino as the twin’s stepfather, Ray, Juliette Lewis as expensive translator Nedra Frank, Kathryn Hahn as Dominick’s ex-wife Dessa, Rosie O'Donnell as the social worker Lisa Sheffer and Archie Panjabi as the empathetic psychiatrist Dr Patel are all uniformly good.

There have been comments on the inappropriate timing of the show—when everyone is running scared of a relentless little virus cutting a swathe of destruction through the world. However, even if I Know This Much is True were aired at the best of times, it would have dragged the cheeriest person into the depths of despair.

Based on Wally Lamb’s eponymous 1998 novel, (900 pages long with more horrid things happening to the Birdsey boys, which thankfully have been left out of the mini-series) I Know This Much is True opens with a horrific scene in a public library. Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic who has been in and out of mental institutions, quotes the Bible and chops off his hand — why a library when people already do not read?

I Know this Much is True
  • Season 1
  • Episodes: 6
  • Run time: 62 minutes
  • Director: Derek Cianfrance
  • Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Melissa Leo, John Procaccino, Rob Huebel, Michael Greyeyes, Gabe Fazio, Juliette Lewis, Kathryn Hahn, Rosie O'Donnell, Archie Panjabi

The show follows 41-year-old Dominick’s attempts to get Thomas out of the maximum security facility where he is incarcerated. I Know This Much is True also goes back and forth in time to the twins’ difficult childhood with an abusive stepfather, a cowed-down mum, Dominick’s difficult marriage to Dessa, his college sweetheart and his fraught relationship with present girlfriend Joy (Imogen Poots), who is unable to handle Dominick’s mood swings and devotion to his brother. Dominick’s grief, guilt and rage of simultaneously wanting to be free of his brother and his fierce loyalty to Thomas runs like an angry, red wound through the show.

In midst of all the toil and turmoil is Dominick’s attempt at figuring out his roots. He hopes for answers from his Sicilian grandfather’s memoirs, which he gets translated from Italian by Nedra. Even though Nedra tells him not to read the memoir, there is no great big reveal apart from the fact that grandpa Tempesta was not a very nice man.

The story of roots, race, fathers, sons, brothers, guilt and suffering is told through Dominick’s eye. The tight close-ups show us Dominick’s tortured soul in every line, crack and crevice of his face. Set in the 90s, in Three Rivers, Connecticut, the constant rain and dark palette echo the grim mill town.

At a time when everyone revels in nostalgia, this show stubbornly looks at history with grimy glasses. One only feels relief at not having to deal with boxy computers, the dial up phones and other props of the era. There are no rose-tinted glasses for MTV, Vietnam, the Beat generation or the swinging 60s.

If one is looking to the movies to escape our comfortingly commonplace lives, I Know this Much is True is most definitely not the ticket. To the argument that it works as a showcase of actors’ craft, there are other ways of enjoying that without having our souls sucked out.

I Know This Much Is True is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 7:58:37 AM |

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