Friday, December 12, 2008
Movie Review: Milk
directed by: Gus Van Sant
It's officially Oscar season, as I am sure you know from reading my blog. So I was especially excited to get out this week and see MILK, which is sure to be a contender in a couple of races. I took Nicholas as one of his birthday presents to see the film on our day off. About a year ago I rented the documentary "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk" from the library - a brilliant Oscar award winning documentary about Milk. So I was familiar with the man and the story. Being homosexual myself I was also familiar with the movement and the villains (Anita Bryant among the worst). So I was not going into the film to learn the story of Harvey Milk per-say, I was going to be wowed by fantastic performances and moved by a touching film which would strike close to home. And honestly, I haven't been this moved at the movies in years.
Saying the acting was phenomenal is honestly the biggest understatement of the year. Sean Penn, who is always fantastic, trumps himself here. There isn't a shred of Sean Penn in Milk, he truly channels his subject. (Watch the documentary either before or after, and you will certainly be shocked not only at the visual reputation but the physical as well). This isn't a mimicry either, it is a living breathing reincarnation. Which is truly tough and very rare. For example Charlize Theron IS Alieen Wournos in Monster whereas Jamie Foxx WAS PORTRAYING Ray Charles in Ray .. there is a difference. And it is clear as day that Penn has inhabited the man at the center of the picture. Penn has never been more likeable, funny, sweet, or inviting as he is here. He honestly is Harvey Milk - the first openly gay man elected to major political office.
Sean Penn is supported by some fantastic actors in smaller yet important roles. Most exciting for me was Emile Hirsch. You may have seen this exciting young actor in last years "Into the Wild", well here he is completely transformed into Cleve Jones, a young hustler turned into campaign manager. Although he plays one of the more femme characters of the bunch, he is never being hammy or insulting in any way. His passion for the role is a true joy to watch. The critics and awards season have been very kind to Josh Brolin for his work in the film as well, and rightfully so. Brolin has had an amazing run over the past year and a half. Starring as the lead in the best picture of last year (No Country for Old Men), then inhabiting the dumbfounded President Bush in the great W, and now as Dan White in Milk. One of the only flaws of the movie I could find, is that I wanted more from Dan White's end of the story. (If you do not know, and this isnt really spoilers because its in all the history books) We don't get much of Brolin, but when we do he does a damn fine job showing the cracks in the flawed city supervisor which lead him to a devastating double murder. The most amazing thing Brolin does is makes Dan White seem human, and not like a monster. Although you don't understand why he did what he did, you do see that he cracked under his own pressure. James Franco is charming and beyond cute as Scott Smith, Harvey's long time love who leaves him in fear of the political backlashes which eventually ended Harvey's life. The chemistry between Penn and Franco is magical, to say the least. The rest of the cast including Diego Luna (as Milk's misses with a depression cycle from hell), Allison Pill (as lesbian campaign manager Anne Kronenberg), and Joseph Cross (as Dick Pabich) all complete a family of supporters.
The directing is tight and polished, the script is intruiging, and the operatic score highlights the extreme emotions of a group of people who believed that blending in was the worse thing you could possibly do. The message of the film is as powerful today as it was in the 70's when it happened. The movement of "come out of the closet", "claim what is rightfully yours", "equality", and of course gay rights is still ongoing today. The film also shows Milk's victory over an anti-gay proposition which would ban all homosexuals (and homosexual supporters) from their jobs, with a target aimed on teachers. He won. We won. But the film shows that you don't always come up successful. Afterall Harvey ran for office an astounding 5 times before being elected. Failure after failure he never stopped. California right now has failed the homosexual rights groups (and in my opinion humans all over the world) by passing proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. However, if the movie teaches you any lesson, its that no matter the failure the fight must continue. In the end we will win.
As the credits rolled on Milk, I suddenly become overcome with emotion. Its because of men like him, and his supporters, that I am free to be who I am wherever I please. And although we have a long way to go as a society, we cannot give up, and we cannot get down. As tears streamed down my face, I was happy to be sitting in the theatre with my boyfriend whom I love so much. I was happy that this film had been made. Please .. Please go see it. It is so very important.
***** out of *****