TV Review: I Know This Much Is True

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

TV Review, Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True, Melissa Leo, HBO, Wally Lamb, Drama

Plot: Set in the fictional town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, the series shows Dominick and Thomas at different stages in their lives, beginning in their present in the early 1990s with both brothers approaching middle-age, filled in with Dominick’s flashbacks to their young adulthood and childhood.

TV Review, Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True, Melissa Leo, HBO, Wally Lamb, Drama

Review: First published in 1998, Wally Lamb's novel I Know This Much Is True was a selection for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club and became an instant bestseller. Over the last twenty years, the massive book as been in various stages of development but it took until filmmaker Derek Cianfrance (BLUE VALENTINE, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES) got involved. Told over six episodes, the HBO limited series has a top tier cast led by Mark Ruffalo in dual roles in what is a powerful and somewhat difficult story to watch but one that is bound to earn some major acclaim and awards, especially for Ruffalo who turns in one, if not the best performance of his career. I Know This Much Is True is a story worth the investment and one that will emotionally gut you.

I Know This Much Is True opens with a scene of shocking violence that sets the tone for the entire series that also manages to give us the power of Mark Ruffalo's ability as an actor. In two scenes where he must act opposite himself, Ruffalo shows in the first five minutes of this series  Despite playing identical twins, this is not a matter of just playing two different roles. While genetically similar, Dominick and Thomas Birdsey could not be more distinct. Dominick is a well adjusted member of society while Thomas is a paranoid schizophrenic. Ruffalo's performance required him to carry himself differently and even gain/lose weight for each role. The dedication is evident as this feels like two complete performances and not a piece of stunt acting.

Watching the trailer for I Know This Much Is True and you would not be in the minority to lump it together with a lot of the melodramatic series that have aired in recent memory. Network dramas like Thirtysomething, Parenthood, and even the recent NBC hit This Is Us are reliant on intense and emotional confrontations between characters. But, there is always something constructed about them that results in them coming across as actors reading from a script. The naturalness of Derek Cianfrance's faithful adaptation of Wally Lamb's novel translates entire chapters to the screen. What elevates this on screen is the acting, especially from Mark Ruffalo who delivers a masterclass here. While we have known from FOXCATCHER, SPOTLIGHT, ZODIAC and even 2019's underrated DARK WATERS that Ruffalo is one of our best actors, his very different roles here has to be seen to be believed.

Playing mental illness is often looked at as awards bait for actors, but Ruffalo doesn't go over the top here. Thomas Birdsey's schizophrenia will be hauntingly real for anyone who has endured a family member or friend diagnosed with the illness. The supporting cast all react very different to Ruffalo's performances which are distinguished not just by haircuts or beards but by overall weight differences. Trying to find how Derek Cianfrance edited the two actors into the same scene is a challenge as it looked seamless to me. The supporting cast, including the great Melissa Leo, Kathryn Hahn, Juliette Lewis, Bruce Greenwood, Imogen Poots, Rosie O'Donnell and a surprising turn from comedic actor Rob Huebel are not just here to elevate Ruffalo but rather populate this epic story.

TV Review, Mark Ruffalo, I Know This Much Is True, Melissa Leo, HBO, Wally Lamb, Drama

While spread over six episodes with a finale that runs almost eighty minutes, I Know This Much is True is a big story. Set over multiple decades in the lives of the Birdsey twins, the story goes from New England to Italy as Dominick tries to trace what led his family from the old country to the state his brother is in today. Derek Cianfrance keeps the novel set primarily in the early 90s with references to the Iraq War central to the narrative. But, fitting an 800 page novel even into seven hours is a challenge and some fans of the book will notice certain segments have been removed. But, the bulk of the story is here and Cianfrance brings a mournful and lyrical feel to framing each scene while not shying away from showing some of the most emotionally devastating moments from any recent film or television series.

I Know This Much Is True is not the feel good watch many of you need during our extended stay at home but it is absolutely a stunning piece of storytelling. There are hopeful moments and others that will devastate viewers and all of it hinges on Mark Ruffalo's career best performances. He also may be the only actor in history to have chemistry with himself and that may make this role the new benchmark for any actor who has to play dual roles in a film. I loved everything about this series but I don't know if I could ever watch it again; not because of anything negative about it but rather because it is so emotionally impactful. Derek Cianfrance is a wonderful filmmaker and has made something in this production that will stand the test of time. Hauntingly sad and yet truly beautiful, I Know This Much Is True is a story that will not leave you after you watch it. 

I Know This Much Is True premieres May 10th on HBO.

TV Review: I Know This Much Is True




About the Author

5931 Articles Published

Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.