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Milk (2008)

June 27, 2009

8/10 Personal Heroes

Gus Van Sant behind the camera, James Franco with an afro, an Oscar-winning screenplay, an Oscar-winning performance by Sean Penn, and the bittersweet life story of Harvey Milk. That’s some good stuff right there.

Milk is a biopic about Harvey Milk, a camera store owner in San Francisco in the mid-to-late 1970’s that became the first openly gay man elected to public office and was later assassinated by fellow San Fran city supervisor and psychotic bastard, Dan White.

After getting used to the biopic formula over the past few years with movies like Ray and Walk the Line (which were both good, but pretty damn similar in plot), I was surprised and impressed with the different direction that Gus Van Sant took this movie in. He’s done a lot of great movies to begin with (Good Will Hunting & My Own Private Idaho among others), so maybe I shouldn’t have been all that surprised.

Right off the bat, he tells you how the movie ends – Harvey Milk gets assassinated. Can’t think of a whole lot of movies that take the approach of giving you the heads up that the main character gets offed at the end, but it’s in the history books anyway and it actually works better that way in the long run. As a result, Van Sant makes it clear to his audience that he’s not trying to create a formulaic drama of Milk’s life, but rather emphasizes that the movie is as much about the importance of the gay rights movement as it is about Milk himself.

The ’70s was a wild decade and its great to be reminded of a time when people were proud and unbelievably adamant about standing up and fighting for things they believed in no matter what the odds. It’s amazing to me that gay rights is still such a heated issue, but nonetheless, it’s just as amazing to see that the effort is now as strong as ever.

Sean Penn does a really good job of bringing out Milk’s magnetism and embodying his message of hope. I still think Mickey Rourke deserved the Oscar for The Wrestler, but Penn is great all the same. The guy’s a good actor, can’t knock him for it.

It’s got a really good script, it’s got a great message, and there’s not a bad bit of acting to be found. Yes, there is a good deal of man-on-man make-out sessions, but come on, you can handle it. We’re all adults here.

I’ve always been really fascinated by the story of Harvey Milk. He stood for everything that was and is right about universal equality, not just for the gay community, but for anyone who was a victim of intolerance in America. And unfortunately, in his death, he also became the embodiment of everything that was and is inherently wrong with American prejudices and intolerance.

I still haven’t seen the Oscar-winning documentary that came out way back when in 1984, The Times of Harvey Milk, but I’d go ahead and say that it’s required viewing if you liked Milk or if you’re unfamiliar with Harvey Milk’s life. He was an amazing guy and it’s a really beautiful and heartbreaking piece of American history.

With all this Proposition 8 bullshit that’s going on in America right now, Milk is as pertinent as ever. Gays are alright in my book and I honestly don’t see what the big deal is about. Not gonna get on a soap box here, but let’s be honest, the last thing anyone we need is more conservative nutjobs like Dan White in the world.

Am I right or am I right?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ingrid permalink
    December 12, 2009 2:27 am

    Yep, you’re right.

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