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Dramas > Milk (Gus Van Sant)

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message 1: by Alex DeLarge (new)

Alex DeLarge | 851 comments I thought PARANOID PARK a better overall film (it made my Top Ten list of '08) but Sean Penn's performance is astounding: he made 21 GRAMS & MYSTIC RIVER better films than they should have been. Now, I liked this Biopic very much but the genre is limited in scope and direction by historical accuracy and attention to details: I suppose what I'm trying to say is the Truth is sometimes boring and open ended, while Fiction's structure allows for creative expression and closure. I don't know much about Harvey Milk but this, like any other Biopic, is "based upon" actual events and not a documentary. In this case, Van Sant's beautiful vision transcends the genre and Sean Penn deserved the Oscar. Highly recommended, especially for you Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican Straight White American Males. (Thanks Todd Snider!)

MILK (Gus Van Sant, 2008, USA) Sean Penn’s heated performance pasteurizes MILK and condemns venomous homophobic protists by portraying Harvey Milk, not as caricature repeating his prescient ideals and values, but as a complex human being. Director Gus Van Sant structures the film around Harvey’s sad and poignant epitaph, his final words spoken into a tape recorder while the narrative uses flashback so we ascend towards his past: this is all the more melancholy because we know how his life ends…while he only suspects it. The narrative follows standard operating procedure as we meet Harvey Milk at a nexus of his life, and we follow this underdog crusader through the highs and lows of his personal and professional life. Gus Van Sant rarely resorts to pure conventional melodrama and always keeps a few surprises awaiting us, and is able to make Harvey’s struggle to transcend the boundaries of his own Idios Kosmos and vaccinate the shared world against bigotry. The film could have descended into a vehement preaching rant…but that tactic is reserved for the bigoted Conservative Christians: Harvey talks sense and compassion and uses his status as city supervisor to attain his goals while Anita Bryant and politician John Briggs inflame congregations with hatred, cruelty, and blatant lies. The supporting cast is convincing and adds depth to the film though we mostly experience Harvey’s life from his own perspective. Josh Brolin as Dan White is wonderfully portrayed as a confused and angry multi-faceted person, not an inhuman monster motivated by the drivel vomited by Anita Bryant and John Briggs. The film also fails to offer easy answers and depicts the gay community in a realistic fashion: these are people with the same desires, hopes, and aspirations, no different from you and me (or the Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican Straight White American Male) and deserving of equal protection under the law. MILK is a homogenized biopic that should be part of any balanced celluloid diet. (B+)


message 2: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5482 comments Nice review, Alex. Here's what I wrote for my blog:

I'd been avoiding it, afraid that I was in for a lot of Preaching to the Choir. I'm so glad to have been proven wrong. An all around excellent film, I thought, the kind of thing that makes me wonder why more movies aren't as generally good as this one. A good solid piece of movie, that proves that Message Movies needn't be insults to the intelligence, that emotional responses can be elicited without resorting to drastic SLUMDOG-type measures. The acting is across the board excellent. Sean Penn finally delivers a performance of real grace and humor along with the expected power and intensity: this is what happens when he finally plays a human being, I guess. And Josh Brolin's Dan White is splendid, a sad dumb clueless straight guy who just can't seem to understand why things don't go exactly the way he wants them to. You can just see him Not Getting It. I know there have been some complaints that the film rather sanitizes the story, but it didn't feel sanitized to me. The ugly little subplot with Milk's overly dependent boyfriend was sufficiently messy, it kept me from thinking that Milk was a just plaster Gay Saint.


message 3: by Matt (new)

Matt | 218 comments I agree that the acting was quite strong; however, the film as a whole lacked something. I think it is most definitely an important story, but it felt a little too "movie of the week." Brolin has been on a roll [I didnt see W (and I understand that Tom has a hatred for anything Coen) but I thought his Moss was pitch-perfect in NO COUNTRY:].


message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom | 5482 comments Brolin's W. was fine as far as it went, and that wasn't very far: the movie settled for a simplistic view of W. as Poor Little Rich Boy Who Just Wants Daddy's Love. Brolin's Moss in NO COUNTRY was fine, I guess, I just never saw why I was supposed to give a damn what happened to him.

So what exactly was "movie of the week" about MILK? I thought it was remarkable for avoiding the "movie of the week" pitfalls that make so many biopics such torture to sit through.


message 5: by Phillip (last edited Apr 13, 2009 01:44PM) (new)

Phillip | 10778 comments agreed, tom. i'm curious to hear how milk played into movie of the week stereotypes...because i didn't find that it offered any of that. i was living here (in sf) in those days (i moved here right after the murder) and i thought the film not only did a great job of telling the story, but it really felt like it was firmly situated in that time and place.

i haven't seen W. lots of friends have offered wildly different views on it, and i'm not interested in seeing him let off the hook in any way, which is what i've neard stone does in some ways. i'll have to rent it before i can offer an opinion, obviously, but i just wasn't drawn to it. i lost interest in stone's work after natural born killers...


message 6: by globulon (new)

globulon | 3 comments I agree with Alex. I saw this a night or two after watching Frost-Nixon, and this movie is by far the better and not merely by comparison. I also thought the Dan White character was interesting and added to the movie rather than being just a symbol of intolerance for us Milk sympathizers to hate.


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