Milk is the latest entry by director Gus Van Sant in the Oscar sweepstakes. I have yet to see all the competition, but I think that this year he has a shot (nominees to be announced January 22). Milk is topical, well written, and has a great cast. In the wake of the passing of California Proposition 8, Milk is sure to receive extra attention.
This film tells the story of the last eight years of the life of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco City Supervisor who, along with Mayor George Moscone, was gunned down by former Supervisor Dan White. For quite a while White’s story, particularly his “Twinkies defense” has captured the public’s imagination. Hopefully, Milk will help to correct this inbalance.
Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk who, following his fortieth birthday, moves to San Francisco to live as an openly gay man with his partner, Scott, played by James Franco. Harvey becomes involved in local politics, running unsuccessfully for office several times before becoming the country’s first openly gay public official. Penn is very convincing as the formerly closeted gay men who chooses to fight for civil rights for gays and others. Penn’s appearance changes several time throughout the film, to show how Harvey’s character is growing. One unfortunate side effect of this is a slight resemblance to Penn’s character in 2001’s I Am Sam.
That, however, is just a minor issue with a very good film. Emile Hirsch was noteworthy with his performance as Cleve Jones a young man who, under Harvey’s tutelage, moves from turning tricks to becoming an effective political operative. The film is full of characters whose lives were changed by Milk’s activism.
I do wish we had seen more of Mayor George Moscone, portrayed by the extraordinary Victor Garber. I think there’s another film in that story! So-go see Milk, a realistic and moving portrayal of a very important person and era.