We meet the most troublesome brother, Thomas, in a creepy way, participating in an act that will force Dominick, a house painter, to take a more active role in overseeing his care. “Thanks for being a good brother to me,” says Thomas sadly.
For Dominick, his late mother (played by Melissa Leo) left the burden of dealing with Thomas, and he feels the weight of the obligation. In that sense, the theme bears considerable resemblance to “Promise,” one of Hallmark’s great Hall of Fame films, with James Garner accused of handling his increasingly disturbed brother, played by James Woods.
Lamb’s 1998 novel, a selection from Oprah’s book club, and this adaptation by writer / director Derek Cianfrance (“The Place Beyond the Pines”) contain several additional layers. For starters, there’s the whole twin aspect, and the questions about what made one brother turn out this way and the other not. In that, Dominick is guided by a psychiatrist (Archie Panjabi from “The Good Wife”) despite his resistance, initially saying, “There’s no point digging into the secrets of the past.”
The story also goes beyond this generation’s DNA to the dark family history, with Dominick learning more about it than he ever wanted. Finally, there is the devastating tragedy he experienced in his own life, one that changed his relationship with his wife (Kathryn Hahn) and has undermined future romances in the future.
It’s undoubtedly a lot to juggle, and the narration can be a little difficult to handle in places. But there are many deeply resonant moments, perhaps none more than an episode reminiscent of the two brothers in college together, as Thomas’s difficulties begin to manifest themselves seriously, playing against the Vietnam War and the fear that it will end. . from school will lead to being recruited. (Wars frame history, with the first Persian Gulf War as the backdrop for most of the narrative.)
Despite the titles evoking that Spandau ballet ballad, “I Know This Is True” is raw and intense. The cast is fantastic: Other supporting players include Rosie O’Donnell and Juliette Lewis, but it’s Ruffalo’s showcase, and overcomes clichés about dual roles, creating two distinct characters, while portraying Thomas’ quirks in a credible way. This time, it’s a performance that will make others greener, only with envy.
“You don’t just give up on the people you love,” says Dominick, explaining his efforts to help Thomas, as fruitless as they may seem.
Dominick is an imperfect guide, but “I know this is true” derives his strength from his painful path to forgiveness, even if it means facing hard truths.
“I Know This Is True” premieres May 10 at 9 p.m. on HBO. Like CNN, HBO is a unit of WarnerMedia.