Archive for March, 2009

Milk

March 7, 2009

Director – Gus Van Sant

Writer – Dustin Lance Black

Starring – Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch

Synopsis

Milk follows the life of Harvey Milk in 1970’s San Fransisco. After moving in with his boyfriend, Scott (Franco), they open a shop and start a small gay movement on a San Fransisco street. Despite the street seeming like a haven for gay people, with flocks of people migrating there, the police continue to attack and prosecute them. Harvey decides to run for city supervisor in order to grant these people the rights that they deserve and stop some bitch from passing an order that would condemn gay people everywhere.

milk31Review

After his festival success with lo-fi “Paranoid Park”, Gus Van Sant gets the nod to shoot for an Oscar, with a political biopic of Harvey Milk’s life (or at least the interesting part of it). With a good lineup of supporting actors and the prominent Sean Penn as the leading man, the ingredients are there for this film to be a sure-fire success.

The film is based around the memoirs that Harvey recorded; that were to be played in the event of his death (as he wasn’t exactly the most popular figure among Republican’s in 1970’s America). This works well in terms of editing, as scenes of Harvey talking in to his tape recorder are slotted in at specific intervals. This breaks the film up, which I guess could make it easier to digest, but what I really liked about it is the juxtaposition of Harvey at his highest high to him still being well aware that his number could be up at any moment.

The character is hard not to like; Sean Penn provides the X-Factor giving him a jolt of charisma and wit, while we recognise his bravery for the actions that he takes. Sean Penn is convincing with his performance in a role that, I personally, am not used to seeing him in. He is not, however, the lone star in Milk, as Josh Brolin gives an excellent performance as Dan White – a complex character whom is seen all too little in the film. The conflict between Dan and Harvey is a delight in the film, with Dan (another politician), at times, feeling like the good guy and Harvey the bad. As stated, this relationship is not focussed on nearly enough throughout the film – I pressume it would have been a task to rearrange Harvey Milk’s history in order to make the film perfect, but you think they would have made an effort.

milk11

In my opinion, Milk’s greatest achievement is how well the man and the movement are juggled. It would have been very easy for the film to predominantely focus on Harvey and have the whole gay movement feel crushed by his presence. Likewise I can see that the movement could have easily dominated Harvey’s story, sweeping him up in the action like a bystander in a looting frenzy. Milk manages to maintain this fine line by balancing additional characters with Harvey’s memoirs, which is a credit to the direction and editing.

milk4

Overall – Milk achieves what it set out to and gives an inspiring message of hope to a country that needed it. It is certainly one of the better non-music related biopics of our time.