30 November 2008
I went to see Milk because the wife and members of her family we going to see it. I really did not know what to expect. I have read only good things about this film and Sean Penn’s acting, so I was a bit curious to see it. I was hesitant to see it because I tend to find bio-pics about people that I do not know boring. I knew the basics, Harvey Milk was an openly gay man who was elected to public office and was murdered. That was it. So, with a running time a hair over the two hour mark, I was worried I would keep looking at my watch.
Now, I consider myself an educated person, but I was completely in the dark about the whole gay-rights fight of the 1970’s. The beginning of the film shows archive footage of police raids on gay bars and nightclubs; something I knew nothing about. Then we get our first glimpse of Sean Penn’s portrayal of Harvey Milk. He is recording a tape only to be played in the event of his assassination. He starts telling his story from the beginning with his meeting of Scott Smith, played by James Franco. Milk confesses that he has done nothing significant with his life. So, Scott and Harvey travel together and end up in San Francisco, California. Here, they set up shop in an area known as the Castro.
From this point, Harvey and Scott help the gay movement in the area and people from all over the country come to this San Francisco haven. Harvey is then convinced to run for public office to get one of their own in power. He is not successful his first outing, or second, or even third for that matter. His adamant mindset keeps him going, but costs him the love of his life. Later, Jack, played by Diego Luna, enters Harvey’s life. Also along the campaign trail, he meets many people that help him finally succeed, including Cleve Jones and Anne Kronenberg, played by Emile Hirsch and Amanda Pill. Harvey finally figures out how politics work, and that helps his political career.
Newly elected, Harvey then meets his other elected city supervisors. Dan White, played by the busy Josh Brolin, is not fond of Milk or the company he keeps. They start an alliance that is quickly dissolved, and a feud starts instead.
When gay rights are being taken away throughout the country, Milk wants to bring it to California, to his territory. Prop 6 is formed to have all homosexual teachers and those who support them removed from their jobs. It would also repeal their protection from prosecution at work based on sexual orientation, among other things. State Senator Briggs for the state of California is the supporter in the state. Harvey, Mayor Moscone, played by Victor Garber, and their supporters go to war with Briggs on this topic.
One of the movie’s apexes is the vote on this proposition. The other is Dan White not being able to handle his humiliation as a supervisor. The sad ending is already told to you at the beginning with the actual footage of the news report.
Gus Van Zant uses archive footage of actual news reports to heighten the realness of his film. His direction is amazing in the fact that all the major actors are at the top of their games. Penn, Hirsch, and Scott could easily be nominated for their roles in this film, along with Van Zant himself. I also really enjoyed and appreciated the footage before the credits of the actual people and what happened to them.
This is only the second film this year that I feel has any chance at Oscar buzz, the other being The Dark Knight. There are only two other films I am looking forward to seeing this year that have Oscar Buzz. Mickey Rourke’s The Wrestler and Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino. Verdict: When I left the theater, I was shocked at how much I not only enjoyed the film, but also by the amount I learned. I would recommend this movie to anyone who was on the fence about seeing it. This was a great movie going experience, and worth the full $9.00 price of admission.