Saturday, December 13, 2008

Review - MILK

MILK chronicles the first openly gay male elected to office in the United States. In 1977 Harvey Milk was elected to San Francisco city's board of supervisors and ignited gay rights in the State and throughout the nation with his various political tactics. Milk, once in office takes aim at Proposition 6, a statewide measure that intends to ban gay teachers in California, which Milk focuses directly on the issues of civil freedom and all men being created equal. One year after Harvey Milk's election, he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by another San Francisco city supervisor, Dan White.

Director Gus Van Sant, who delivers high pedigree in cinema time and time again, projects Harvey Milk's life on screen with remarkable esteem for his political work and voice. Van Sant seamlessly unites news footage from late 1970s, with his work and presents a poignant film, highlighting Milk's shift into a political voice as a gay activist. Working from Dustin Lance Black's screenplay, Van Sant takes sharp aim at Milk's rise as an gay activist in the political process and a gay leader in San Francisco's Castro district. Gus Van Sant submerses the viewer into the bohemian sub-culture of the Castro district and presents the gay lifestyle through human experiences that are vividly played by the outstanding cast.

Sean Penn once again comes to a role and just completely encompasses the character, delivering a remarkable and Oscar worthy performance. Sean Penn from the moment he is one screen, is absolutely riveting as Harvey Milk. Penn's delivery and body language throughout is more than genuine with Milk's flirtatious real life persona. Penn comes at the viewer with absolute precision in his performance and is chill-inducing in his speeches. His usual opener, "I'm Harvey Milk and I am here to recruit you" draws the viewer in everytime and "I know your angry, I'm angry" does nothing less than create commendable realism causing the viewer to feel one with the crowd, Milk is speaking to. Sean Penn within his performance shows the passion of Milk and why he felt compelled to act, tired of being treated like a degenerate citizen. Penn ultimately warms the heart with his humanity in the role of Harvey Milk, reminding us through his performance and story, that we are all the same regardless of sexuality.

Josh Brolin in eerie fashion plays Dan White, another San Francisco supervisor who assassinated Harvey Milk along with Mayor Moscone. Brolin is haunting as White, a fireman who also benefited from a district divided voter map. Brolin creates an uncanny hostility that questions his sanity and capacity to hold his elected office. White's unnerving attitude towards Milk is brilliantly played by Brolin and his screen time with Sean Penn creates unpleasent anticipation of what is to come. Brolin's edge of sanity performance comes directly at the viewer in the climax displaying a hauntingly collected demeanor as he commits the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk.

The supporting cast of MILK is effective in creating a group of people who surrounded Harvey Milk and his fight against intolerance. Emile Hirsch is most notable as Cleve Jones, the often reffered to by Harvey, "adorable" activist who he recruited off the streets of San Francisco. Hirsch who embraces the role, brings added spirit to Milk's politico team, but has his shining moment when he and Penn collaborate on a rally aimed at Proposition 6. James Franco vividly plays Milk's longtime partner Scott Smith, who is torn between his love of Harvey and his persistence in the political sphere even after three election losses. Franco strongest moments come from his support of Harvey, however the two share a touching retrospect the night they meet, that comes full circle by the end of the film. Franco feels under utilized here in MILK, but with rising performances by the overall cast and vivid storytelling, it mainly goes unnoticed.

Gus Van Sant does a great job of building Harvey Milk's story through a narrative Harvey recorded in the case he was assassinated. The moments of Penn recording this audio tape are very touching and Penn provides remarkable insight of a man who fears for his life, but will not stop fighting for the civil rights of gay Americans. Harvey Milk was a shrewd politician that would use any means he could to gain notice and Van Sant shines with a few of Milk's notable campaigns, like cleaning up dog poop in San Francisco. Which was used to gain notarity for the fight against Proposition 6. MILK does not hold back in its subject matter and Van Sant does a masterful job of elegantly displaying the cultural crusade Harvey Milk was creating. Milk wanted to make America aware of homosexuality and was brutally honest about "outing" his political team. In a compelling moment, Harvey requests anyone within his campaign team that has not told anyone in there lives that they are gay, that they must do it or leave the team. This causes particular concern with some of the members forcing one team member to call his parents. Van Sant powerfully illustrates in this scene, that it is the awareness, that will make people to come to terms and help fight intolerance.

MILK was a great film that really delivered on message. Gus Van Sant through his direction and seemless use of 70's television footage created a powerful docudrama that propells Harvey Milk's passion for all to see. Penn and Van Sant's triumph come in their recreation of a gay rally in which Harvey Milk delivers a powerful speech on the steps of the Capitol building saying, "All men are created equal and no matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words." The result is inspiring and rousing to say the bare minium. What may or may not seem most shocking after viewing MILK, is how little we as a Nation have come since Milk's assassination. Thirty years later and civil-rights are still being denied to Americans based on their sexuality, which is no different than denying somebody their human rights for the color of their skin.


One of your best reviews to date..great film. Josh Brolin and Sean Penn were incredible.