I Know This Much Is True is riddled with dramatic tension highlighted by a career-defining performance from Mark Ruffalo. This six-part series based on Wally Lamb’s critically acclaimed novel starts on HBO May 10th. The subject matter is extremely difficult to stomach, and at times audience members will have to fight urges to look away. Writer/Director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines) is charged with adapting Lamb’s 900-page novel for this series.
Cianfrance stayed true to Lamb’s narrative structure, rarely deviating from its structure. What became problematic in the series is Lamb’s overabundance of exposition. While I’m sure, Lamb and Cianfrance felt it was essential to show Dominick’s twin brother slowly slipping into madness, but those moments became anchors tied around the narrative’s momentum. Cianfrance also relied a little too much on unpacking the relationship the brothers had with their stepfather while in the book, Lamb doesn’t go into great detail.
For those who aren’t familiar with the source material, I Know This Much Is True tells the story of the Birdsey twins and how Thomas’s diagnosis of Paranoid Schizophrenia had a ripple effect on anyone they came in contact with. Dominick attempts to rationalize what is happening with his brother and overtime realizes that some things defy explanation. It’s this inability to rationalize what was occurring that propelled him down a dark and often inescapable hole. There comes the point where Thomas becomes his shield for addressing his tragic reality.
Ruffalo and Kathryn Hahn (who plays his ex-wife Dessa) are fantastic in the series and easily have my favorite storyline centered on redemption. While most of the praise for the series will focus on how the veteran actor was flawless as Thomas, Hahn’s portrayal of Dessa brought the best out of Ruffalo’s Dominick and likely will be what puts him over the top in the mind of Emmy voters.
There’s no question that these two love each other even after going through an unspeakable tragedy. Still, it’s the nuance that Hahn brought to Dessa crying out for help from Dominick, which made the decision he makes unfathomable. While Thomas was born with his issues, his decision to betray his wife nearly lead him into a similar circumstance as his brother. The ability to trace this tragedy back to its origin is what makes the series so brilliant. My concern is, will people stick through the lengthy and unnecessary elements of the story to see this.
Melissa Leo plays Dominick and Thomas’s mother in the series and is fabulous. The mystery surrounding who the boy’s father was is certainly front and center in both the book and the series. Dominick’s lack of an identity eats at him and causes him to question his self-worth. Did his father not think his two sons were worth his time and energy? Leo’s character attempts to defend Thomas from the harsh reality of the real world, which seems only to delay what was inevitable.
Rosie O’Donnell plays Thomas’s social worker Lisa Sheffer and is dynamite as well. Sheffer ends up playing an integral part in Dominick coming to accept Thomas being placed in a state ran the facility and his eventual release months later. Sheffer’s presence cause Dom to check his emotions at the door and allowed rational thought to dictate their next moves.
While at times I Know This Much Is True has pacing issues, Jody Lee Lipes’s camera work captures the beauty of their surroundings while dialing up the perfect closeup at just the right time to show the anguish Thomas was going through in a given moment. Overall, Ruffalo and Hahn make this series worthwhile, but the overabundance of exposition from the source material slows this story down to a screeching halt.