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Gus Van Sant
Dustin Lance Black
Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Diego Luna, Brandon Boyce, Kelvin Yu, Lucas Grabeel, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Denis O'Hare, Stephen Spinella, Ted Jan Roberts, Peter Jason, Steven Wiig, Adam Del Rio, Eric Stoltz, Douglas Smith, Kenny New, Kelvin Han Yee, Kyle Scudiere, Jeff Redlick, Jeff Bredt, James Cotner, Zachary Culbertson, David Hodges, Brian Vowell, John Prudhont, Blake Griffin, Isa Magomedov, Mike Justice, Harvey Milk, Toni Staniewicz, Cory Montgomery, Cabran E. Chamberlain, Boyd Holbrook, Howard Rosenman, Carol Ruth Silver, Hope Tuck, Ashlee Temple, Wendy Tremont King, Boyd Holbrook, Tim Halpin, Robert Chimento, Cleve Jones, Jeremiah Turner, Christopher Greene, Greg Cala, Shaun Landry, Brian Danker, Tony R. Vella, Camron Palmer, Michael Gillespie, Mary Dilts, Brad Comfort, Jill Maragos, Gilbert Baker, John Douglas Ayers, Leesha Davis, Maddie Eisler, Robert Dean Jacobs, Drew Kuhse, Yeena Lopez, Corbett Redford, Jeffrey Schwarz, Cindy Warner, Tom Ammiano, Cully Fredricksen, Awele Makeba, Borzin Mottaghian, Tom Ramdol, Yoli Mapp, Lin Shukla, Serene Sidher
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|Movie Review by Ben |
December 31st, 2008
"Milk" is a longtime dream project of Gus Van Sant, and it looks at the late Harvey Milk who became America's first openly gay man ever elected to political office. It follows him from when he moves from New York to the Castro district of San Francisco and the numerous races he ran for political office. It culminates with his and Mayor George Moscone's assassination at the hands of Supervisor Dan White. But don't worry, I haven't given anything away. The movie is an intimate character piece of Harvey as well as those closest to him as he fought for equal rights for all gays in San Francisco as well as in the rest of the country.
It's actually quite prophetic that "Milk" is being released now as we in California have witnessed the depressing and infuriating passage of Proposition 8 which bans gay marriage in the state. In the movie, we see Harvey and his friends fighting the good fight against Proposition 6 which was enacted by then California Senator John Briggs with the objective of banning gay men and women from teaching jobs in California public schools. Back then, people foolishly believed that there was a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia which was and still is total crap. "Milk" is coming out at a time where we see that the fight for gay rights is far from over.
The majority of the action in the movie takes place in San Francisco in the Castro market. Anyone residing in or familiar with the history of Castro will see that it is to San Francisco what West Hollywood is to Los Angeles. Harvey ends up opening a little camera shop with his lover Scott Smith (James Franco), and he is not greeted with opening arms from the local merchants who are convinced that because he is gay, he will be closed down in record time. It is from there that Harvey decides to run for public office and to find a voice for the gays that they never had before.
Gus Van Sant does a great job of recreating the San Francisco of the 1970's ever so vividly on what must have been a very tight budget. He also successfully interweaves television footage of the time with the actors in the film to where it is not at all distracting. But the biggest accomplishment that Van Sant accomplishes is that he does not turn Harvey Milk into some sort of superhero as much as he treats him as a regular human being with flaws and all. Harvey helps those in need of help as much as he can, and he does this to a fault. His political life also overtakes his personal life and creates heartbreaking difficulties in his ability to maintain a loving relationship. He is encouraged to give up running for political office after he loses for a second time (he ran for office 4 times before he won), but with each election he makes a bigger impact with more and more voters.
Sean gives the role of Harvey Milk an utterly gleeful spirit that you never see in his other roles. Most of the roles Sean Penn plays are of characters in the pit of despair or of those who are so cynical about the world that it takes a battering ram to get through that psyche to get a genuine sense of feeling. This may very well be his most cheerful performance since he played Spicoli in "Fast Times At Ridgemont High." Sean really captures the spirit of what made Harvey so special, that he wanted to help people and to make gays around him come out of the closet. Sean can add his performance in "Milk" to his large volume of brilliant performances, and it is certain to get him another deserved Oscar nomination.
James Franco's performance as Harvey's lover, Scott Smith, is excellent as he creates a link to Harvey that can never be broken, ever. Another standout performance in the movie comes from Emile Hirsch who plays street hustler Cleve Jones who Harvey ends up encouraging him to help run his campaign. Emile gives Cleve a spirit and a determination that can never be easily broken, and he shows no shame in whom he is nor should he.
But another truly great performance in "Milk" comes from Josh Brolin who portrays Supervisor Dan White. Ever since 2007, Brolin has really been a on a roll with terrific performances in movies like "No Country For Old Men," and this year he gave us a surprisingly empathetic portrayal of George W. Bush in Oliver Stone's "W." With his role as Dan White, he never goes the route of simply demonizing this man whose crime is still absolutely unforgivable to so many. Along with director Van Sant, Brolin gives us a complex of a man brought up through a strong religious background, and who ends up getting so caught up it that it blinds him to the deep dark hole he keeps digging for himself. In a sense, his outcome is tragic in its own way, and when you find at the end credits how he ended up leaving this earth, there is no cheering. There is nothing but pity for the man who got a much too lenient sentence thanks to the so called "Twinkie defense."
The real triumph of "Milk" is in how Gus Van Sant makes you see what an inspiration he was to so many people, gay or straight. The movie starts out with him saying as he is turning 40 that he has done nothing with his life. By the end of the movie, both Gus and Sean make it clear that he did so much, and that he is still a huge inspiration to so many 30 years after his assassination. In fact, he may even be more of an influence to people in death than he was in life.
Many may end up not seeing this movie not so much because of their misplaced religious views, but of the fact we all know how Harvey Milk died. Hence, we all know how the movie will end as its conclusion has been clear for 30 years. But "Milk" is not a movie about how Harvey Milk died. It is a movie about how he lived, and how it is a life worthy of being celebrated. His courage did so much for people, and it is needed now as history is repeating itself with Proposition 8. Harvey's battle for gay rights is far from over, but it will (and should) succeed in the end. The movie is a career high for Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn, and it is one of 2008's best movies.
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