Location: Los Angeles, California

Monday, November 24, 2008


I have seen a few great films this year, namely Doubt, Synecdoche, New York, and Waltz with Bashir (the last of which I still need to talk about). But, up until this point, I had not seen any GREAT films. That is, a film that rises above being just an artistic achievement and takes hold of your heart.

Gus Van Sant's Milk is one of those films. At its most basic form, it's a biopic. And it may be very hard to make a bad biopic when your subject is the exuberant and life-loving Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician elected to office in California and a man who helped lead the gay rights movement in the 1970s. So, yes, Harvey Milk is a hero, and a biopic about his life was overdue and, considering recent political events in California, extremely relevant.

But, Van Sant's Milk soars beyond the conventions of the biopic, and the biggest reason for that is Sean Penn. I've never really cared for Penn and his bad-boy image, but he does something amazing in this film -- he makes you completely believe that you're watching Harvey Milk on the screen. He makes you understand Milk's ideals; he makes you recognize Milk's personal regrets; and as Milk writes down his manifesto to his supporters in the event that he's assassinated, Penn makes you believe Harvey's every word. It's a hell of a performance, and I don't see how any other actor will be able to take away the Oscar that will be awarded to Penn.

Of course, my opinion is biased. Of course, I have a personal stake in this film's message. Of course, as a young gay man, the film speaks more directly to me than it will for others. But, I can't help it -- that's who I am. The things that make up my personality will always influence how I respond to a movie or a person or an issue.

I look objectively at Milk and see Dustin Lance Black's compassionate and thoroughly researched script. I see not only Penn's stellar work, but a lively supporting turn from Emile Hirsch, a complicated and disturbed take by Josh Brolin, and a subtle, graceful performance from James Franco. I hear Danny Elfman's wonderful choir-dominated score and admire Harris Savides' sun-drenched cinematography. And Van Sant's unobtrusive yet brisk storytelling.

I notice all that objectively, and yet it's my heart -- and all the pain and guilt and fear and self-loathing that I let sit inside me for longer than I should have -- that responded strongest to Milk. It's a movie that was made for me and for the many others out there like me, and thank God it happens to be made so damn well.

Unless something stupendous is released in December, Milk is the best film of the year.


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