Roush Review: Mark Ruffalo in ‘I Know This Much Is True’ Is Emmy-Worthy

I Know This Much Is True HBO Review

And you thought the Hulk was angry. Although he never transforms into a giant green behemoth in the emotionally intense I Know This Much Is True, Mark Ruffalo’s explosive displays of frustrated rage and tragic madness as he plays very different identical twins are even more disturbing in their realism. I know this much: As Dominick and Thomas Birdsey, Ruffalo ascends to the head of the Emmy class in a demanding dual role.

Adapting Wally Lamb’s mammoth bestseller into a six-part limited series, writer-director Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) spares no one in this sorrowful tale of familial responsibility and mystery. “He is my curse,” blurts hot-blooded and hardheaded Dominick to Dr. Patel (Archie Panjabi), the coolly compassionate psychologist now treating his fragile brother. Thomas, a paranoid schizophrenic, has been committed to a forensic institute for the criminally insane after a horrific act of delusional self-mutilation. Though new to the case, Dr. Patel, to her credit, sees in the Birdsey brothers “two young men lost in the woods. Not one, two.”

And that empathy is what keeps this harrowing story from being just a wallow in misery — although there are times you might wonder if Dominick’s middle name is Job. Flashbacks fill us in on a marriage derailed by tragedy and a beloved but abused mother taken by breast cancer; Kathryn Hahn and Melissa Leo, respectively, are quite touching in those brief but significant supporting roles. In a novelistic touch, we also learn the history of a Sicilian immigrant grandfather with his own share of sibling angst and symbolic curses.

While Thomas is heartbreaking in his mental confusions that take the form of religious mania, it’s combustible caretaker Dominick who commands our sympathy. Focused on freeing his tormented brother from his new prison, a guilt-consumed Dominick continually lashes out at those who are trying to help, including the social worker who refuses to indulge his outbursts (played by an impressively understated Rosie O’Donnell). Though often exasperating, Dominick is the opposite of a lost cause, even if he’s the last to realize it.

Mark Ruffalo Rosie O'Donnell I Know This Much Is True HBO

(Atsushi Nishijima/HBO)

So what if he’s no superhero? His journey of self-discovery, which includes a crusade that began in childhood to learn his birth father’s identity, feels absolutely, dramatically true.

I Know This Much Is True, Series Premiere, Sunday, May 10, 9/8c, HBO