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Milk (2009) Director Gus Van Sant 1 February 2009

Posted by jordanfarley in Uncategorized.
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Milk tells the true story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), America’s first openly gay elected official, from his arrival in San Francisco just after his 40th birthday to his assassination at the hands of fellow city supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin). The film also chronicles the struggle America was fighting through at the time over gay rights and the relationships Harvey has with the men in his life: loyal boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco), tempestuous lover Jack Lira (Diego Luna) and campaign assistant Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch).

Gus Van Sant is best known for edgy art house fair like Elephant and Paranoid Park but has also forged a successful career as a director of decidedly more mainstream fare like Good Will Hunting and his truly awful (and pointless) shot for shot re-make of psycho. While I think Good Will Hunting is probably his best film I tend to favour the independent Van Sant because more often than not when he is given a budget he plays it far too safe. And that’s the problem with Milk. It’s wonderfully shot and the performances are solid throughout (though Brolin is the standout not Penn) but it feels two dimensional. Such an important figure with such an amazing life story to tell could not have been the knight in shining armour we are presented here by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

Penn pulls off the role well, he makes Harvey instantly endearing and we are left with no doubt that this man can truly change the course of history. Franco to comes off surprisingly well in a role which requires him to be in a huff for most of the second half. Luna however is another matter, camping it up to an extreme I was hoping the film would avoid he is a caricature of a gay man, a queen in every sense of the word. Had he been portrayed a bit more sympathetically we might have been able to understand why Harvey stayed with him for so long.

As mentioned earlier however the real standout is Josh Brolin. Brolin embodies Dan White with more depth in his significantly shorter screen time than all the other actors do put together. Perhaps it is because we are never really let into White’s world, because we never really have his feelings spelled out to us, that we read so much into Brolin’s understated portrayal of the family man threatened by Milk’s mere presence. The relationship between White and Milk is fascinating and would have made a much more interesting a daring movie than the conventional biopic we are presented with here. By no means a bad film, but undeserving of all the praise being lavished on it and too conventional for such a controversial figure

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