This is the story of the first years of the AIDS epidemic in the United States and focuses on three key elements. Dr. Don Francis, an immunologist with experience in eradicating smallpox and containing the Ebola virus, joins the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to try and understand just what this disease is. They also have deal with bureaucracy and a government that doesn't seem to care. The gay community in San Francisco is divided on the nature of the disease but also what should be done about it. Finally, the film deals with the rivalry between Dr. Robert Gallo, the American virologist who previously discovered the first retrovirus and his French counterpart at the Pasteur Institute, Dr. Luc Montagnier, that led to disputed claims about who was first to identify the AIDS virus. Written by
"It may seem a little hopeless." ... "That's because it is."
American doctors from the under-funded Center for Disease Control scramble to figure out the origin of--and the causes behind--the alarming rate of homosexual male deaths in the early 1980s; as a fatal strain of pneumonia and hepatitis B cases begin appearing, as Reagan-era Washington apparently vetoes the mysterious disease as non-newsworthy, and as the gay community (shown as not one radically adept at helping their own cause) label the early cases as products of the Gay Cancer, the CDC battles with the Blood Industry in coming up with an inexpensive way of filtering out contaminated blood. Adaptation of Randy Shilts' frightening, groundbreaking book was seemingly an impossible undertaking, yet HBO Films and co-producer Aaron Spelling manage to lay all Shilts' information out adroitly and adeptly, with some of the character interaction awkwardly interjected but with most of the principal players doing very well with technical roles. Alan Alda positively revels in the opportunity to play sniveling medical scientist Dr. Robert Gallo, who felt usurped when French scientists initially gained prestige for isolating the virus; as Dr. Mary Guinan, Glenne Headly does some of the best work of her career (while interviewing a sexually promiscuous airline steward, one of the earliest men to fall prey to the disease, Headly is remarkably natural and charming); and Saul Rubinek as Dr. Curran, who initiates the investigation and helps sort out all the jargon, is in masterful form. Some of the high-profile cameos aren't shaped for much satisfaction--they stick out as artifices--such as Richard Gere's bit as a stricken choreographer (it is commendable that Gere is here, yet his movie star aura looms larger than his part). The film isn't compact--it isn't a quick-fix wallow or a time-filler--it is a serious, frustrating, angry movie with no easy answers. And that's as it should be.
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