Director Ryan Murphy’s film adaptation of Larry Kramer’s AIDS activism ensemble drama The Normal Heart (B) tells a stirring chronicle of life in New York in the ’80s among gay men with the dreaded new virus sneaking up on the population with a slow burn akin to the zombies of modern myths. Mark Ruffalo has never been better as the lead agitator to the political powers that be; and Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Taylor Kitsch are excellent as the alternately spellbound and skeptical members of his inner circle. Julia Roberts is also effective as a driven doctor helping early casualties of the epidemic. Roberts’ inner Brokovich and Ruffalo’s inner Hulk bring the rage of the stage to the events that unfold. But the director of Eat, Pray, Love, not known for his sustained narrative cohesion, sometimes follows a formula of Meet, Yell, Scream and fizzles without resolution. When he gets it right, especially in the Ruffalo-Bomer romance and in framing a double tragedy, Murphy nails it. But there are other undernourished supporting characters and subplots that don’t propel the plot as effectively. Ultimately the film is a significant slice of history, told with care and resonance about a critical topic that still calls out for our attention. Thanks to commanding performances and an absorbing underdog story, there are great lessons to learn here.