Friday, December 12, 2008
So, as you all may know, I was at one point in time a Political Science Major, here at Grand Valley State University. I looked at politics throughout the years, and have grown to be an avid liberal, with a great appreciation for people with conviction in their beliefs. That is why I was more than excited to check out Milk, the story of a man, Harvey Milk, who fought his way to becoming the first openly gay man elected to major office, in this nations history.
Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, who, after moving to San Francisco with his lover, Scott Smith, became a Gay Rights activist, and began his campaign for City Supervisor. On his third attempt, he was elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in 1977, making him the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the USA. The following year, both he and the city's mayor, George Moscone, were shot to death by former city supervisor, Dan White, who blamed his former colleagues for denying White's attempt to rescind his resignation from the board. Dan White then defended his action with what has been known as the Twinkie Defense, stating that his diet of junk food made him go crazy. The film is directed by Gus Van Sandt, and stars Sean Penn, Diego Luna, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsh, and James Franco.
Harvey Milk was a man who loved life, and I absolutely loved this film. It starts off with this really poetic and disturbing opening, of newsreel footage of gay men and women being arrested for simply being gay in public, and the score by Danny Elfman is so beautiful, that it's really breathtaking.
We then see Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn, at a tape recorder, recording a tape that he says should be played in the event of his assassination. It then goes to 1970, and we begin looking at the events that truly made this man and the movement he helped spark.
Performance wise, this film is really top notch, all beginning with the main role. Here is something that could be a little blasphemous, but Penn gives his best performance to date, far and away. Having seen The Times of Harvey Milk, a great documentary about the man, you see that this man really loved life and people, and Penn epitomizes that. James Franco plays Scott Smith, Milks first lover, or at least in the film, and he is also brilliant, and is shaping up to be one of the better actors working right now. Josh Brolin turns out another solid performance, and is continuing his streak dating back to early last year. He plays Dan Brown as a truly horrible man, but with some sympathy as well, as he was really willing to "work" with Harvey, but ended up losing his job, and sanity.
The only real lacking performance came from Diego Luna, who portrayed Jack Lira, Harvey's lover after Scott. He just didn't seem to fit in the rest of the film, or at least the character didn't, but alas, it's a biopic, so I can't really fault them for that. Also, contrast that with Emile Hirsch's Cleve Jones, a really fun performance, it didn't really take much away.
Another thing that surprised me, in a year where film scores began to play a character in the film, this score from Danny Elfman was really subdued and allowed me to simply listen to the music, instead of paying attention to it. It never made a huge impression, but in a film this emotionally moving, it didn't really need to. It swelled at the right times, it stayed back at the right time, it's simply one of the best scores of the year, and would be my favorite had the Dark Knight been released this year.
This is Gus Van Sandt's second film of '08, with Paranoid Park being released at the beginning of the year. Paranoid Park was a brilliant poetic film, with a lyrical sort of indie feel to it, and this is a much different film, but equal in quality. It's much more commercial, yet still has some of Gus' visual stamps to it, including some super 8 footage, that was also used brilliantly in Paranoid, used throughout the film. This is probably his most commercial film, but it's still very much his style of film, which is a great thing. Oh, and is their a cinematographer working today that can shoot California better than Harris Savides? He did it amazingly in last year's Zodiac, and he does it again, although with much more warmth and a more optimistic feel in Milk. Truly great work.
Also, there has to be something said for a film with this pure emotional power. Near the end, as the fall begins to happen, the way that Van Sandt and writer Dustin Lance Black work visuals and writing just really amplify this already heartbreaking story. Not only that, but near the end, when the stunning candle light vidal takes place, I felt this great sense of emotion, that I really just wanted to get up and fight for something I believed in with as much conviction as he did. He was a great man, and the best hero on screen this year, or in a long time.
Now, this film was released a few weeks ago, about a month or so after the passing of Proposal 8, banning Gay Marriage. A similar Proposal is at the heart of this film, Prop 6, which if passed, luckily it wasn't, it would have allowed schools and other businesses to fire people based upon their sexual preference. It's shocking to think about today, but if you take a close look at what is going on, it's not that far off. John Briggs, former California State Senator, was the one who introduced the proposal, and during debates with Harvey Milk, was using similar reasoning as to why the Prop was good, such as comparing homosexuality to bestiality, as people like Rick Santorum today. This is a powerful film, that really makes you think, if the Gay Rights Movement had someone with the political prowess and pure conviction today, if the outcome may be a little different.
Please, I'm really hoping that this over the moon review of Milk makes you all go out and check it out. It's a powerful story, and one that will really make you wonder if we actually have come all that far.
MILK - 9/10
Brilliant, beautiful, heartbreaking, and powerful, this film will make you want to cry and take action for something you believe in.
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