Review: I Know This Much is True

Gripping interpersonal drama

Mark Ruffalo makes a formidable performance as an injured twin.

Published 11 August 2020 - 5:25 am
I Know This Much is True
Tor Aavatsmark

When we heard that Derek Cianfrance sat in the directors chair of I Know This Much is True, it aroused our immediate interest. The director is behind excellent drama films such as Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines and The Light Between Oceans. With this HBO series, he tops his relatively short directing career.
Let it be said at once, if you are looking for a series to cheer you up while the corona is ravaging the world, then we will probably not recommend this series.


Cursed family

The miniseries, closely based on the novel of the same name, by Wally Lambs, follows the Italian-American family Birdsey / Tempesta from the time they immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, until their grandsons struggle with life in the early 1990s.

The two identical twin brothers Dominick (Mark Ruffalo) and Thomas (Mark Ruffalo) have been hanging out together as teasing since they were little.

Outwardly the brothers are very similar, one a little thicker and leaner than the other, but on the inside (apparently) very different. Thomas struggles with the psyche, is diagnosed with paranoia and schizophrenia, and goes to the drastic step of cutting off his own hand; apparently in a protest against Bush’s war in Iraq / Kuwait and American war incitement around the world.

At the same time, he is convinced that he is being persecuted by the state, the Russians and all the spies in the world, they have even implanted transmitters in his head.

As the petty Dominick becomes acquainted with his grandfather’s story, via a manuscript he receives from his mother on his deathbed, he becomes almost convinced that an insoluble curse rests on the small family.

Mark Ruffalo and Kathryn Hahn. I Know This Much is True, Season 1 (Photo: HBO)

Damaged childhood

Both boys grow up in the small town of Three Rivers, Connecticut, without knowing who their carnal father is. Mother (Melissa Leo) is more than caring and insecure, while stepfather Ray (John Procaccino) is angry, violent and has decided to “make men” out of the two twins – if that has to be knocked in! The worst thing happens to Thomas.

Growing up, Thomas became more and more socially dysfunctional, and proportionately more dependent on his brother. As Dominick states in adulthood, he feels like he has an anchor hanging around his foot, which constantly threatens to pull him under.

After a personal family tragedy, Dominick ends up divorced, and at the same time loses interest in the teaching profession. Now he earns his living almost by hand-to-mouth as a house painter, while most of his free time is spent following up on his increasingly extravagant twin brother. It ends up with involuntary hospitalization.

Skremmende godt skuespill


A little while back we saw Paul Rudd in the double role as himself and his alter ego in Living With Yourself. Without comparison otherwise, the same technique, and special effects, are used here, so that we can see Ruffalo x2 on the screen at the same time.

The technique is flawless and impressive, but it is Ruffalo’s superb acting that blows us off the field. We will be surprised if he does not receive an Emmy award in September.

Ruffalo is not as big and strong as his more famous film character, the Hulk, but in I Know han he is almost as vulnerable, misunderstood and angry. He is almost torn to pieces by loyalty and a sense of duty towards his twin brother, at the same time as he so desperately wishes that he could live a life free from all the limitations and challenges his brother imposes on him. Despair is never far away and the spark of life is almost absent.

It’s a gloomy scenario Cianfrance serves us, and at times it gets more than tragic. How much tragedy can a single family really suffer? However, it is never sought or constructed, much thanks to a sober, toned-down script, credible dialogue and locations, as well as a play that hits you in the heart.

«It’s the song of the tired and the weary
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my door
Oh hard times come again no more»


Ruffalo plays the two different brothers with fervor, vulnerability and passion out of another world. It is so strong that you feel like beating yourself up and crying with him. It never slips into a cliché or overplay, but an interpersonal drama that he finely balances. We have not seen him better since Zodiac (2007).

The rest of the role gallery is rock solid, where we will not least highlight Kathryn Hahn and Rosie O’Donnell. Both help to nuance Dominick’s complex personality and put him in a more humane light. In addition, we get strong supporting roles from, among others, Bruce Greenwood and Archie Panjabi, as well as Philip Ettinger as the credible teenage version of the twins. It’s all topped off with a completely outraged Juliette Lewis who translates from Hell – priceless!


The color palette is kept in shower gray colors, the weather is generally gray and rainy, and the camera is approachable and extremely personal. Almost intimately intrusive as in a documentary, it lingers slowly over the tormented facial expressions.

It’s an extraordinarily strong story Cianfrance (Ruffalo is an executive producer by the way) has at hand, but he never lets it tip over into assumed social pornography.

Cianfrance uses a slightly “cloudy” image quality that is in line with the decade we are in, and the editing is a delight for the eyes and soul, where we never (like most series / movies of today) hurry, but takes time to let the dialogue sink in and the drama unfold in all its sadness.

The story spans almost 70 years, and copes well with the change between the 1920s and the diabolical ancestor, via the 1960s to the “present” 1990s. All while we are in the provincial small town not far from the metropolis of New York.

If there is one thing we should draw for, it is the length of the series. Nearly six and a half hours is somewhat in excess based on the limited action in the novel, and some of the episodes suffer from a lack of progression. But it is only for tile nailing to count from an otherwise flawless production and, definitely, one of the best TV series of the year.

So certainly not something you sit down in the easy chair with a bucket of popcorn and a six-pack of beer with (if that is the need, we recommend this film instead); but if you are looking for an emotional journey of the rare, we give the warmest recommendations to I Know This Much is True. 6 stars for Ruffalo & Co.

I Know This Much is True


  • HBO
  • Release: May 11, 2020
  • Directed by Derek Cianfrance
  • With: Mark Ruffalo, Melissa Leo, Rosie O’Donnell, Juliette Lewis, Kathryn Hahn, John Procaccino, Philip Ettinger,Archie Panjabi
  • Genre: Drama
  • Country: USA
  • Year: 2020
  • Runtime: 6:20
  • Score: 6
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