This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Milk isn’t exactly a documentary. There’s already a documentary about Harvey Milk, so there’s little mileage in redoing that. This is a dramatisation of the life of the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in San Francisco, who was later assassinated along with the then Mayor Moscone by one of his Supervisor colleagues. Which, you’ve got to think, would be remarkable enough to make a film out of.
Indeed, Milk makes for a remarkable film. The talented but frequently obnoxious Sean Penn takes the role of Milk and knocks it somewhere into the stratosphere, the film picking up Milk’s story just after moving to SF with his new lover Scott (James Franco) from back East where he lived a closeted life in a button-down world. Opening a camera shop on Castro Street, the place and area soon become a mecca for the gay community.
There is, perhaps, little percentage in me recapping a life story that, while I’d wager not terrifically well-publicised in Blighty, is a matter of public record. Let’s just say that through a combination of drive, organisation, community building and good fortune Milk finds himself as leader and spokesman for the gay community, eventually winning election where he hoped to represent gay interests before his untimely deaths, but not before spearheading resistance to a particularly hateful anti-gay bill being propounded by some ignorant bint of an actress and half-witted senator.
Milk’s story is a remarkable, intriguing and powerful one, and Penn captures the emotion and drama of the events and their import as well as I can imagine anyone doing. On this performance it’s very difficult to begrudge him his Oscar success, and as such Milk is more than worth seeing for his performance alone. It’s not a flawless life, but it’s an important one and the tale it tells is on occasion almost heartbreakingly sad, and on occasion uplifting and overwhelmingly positive. It’s not difficult to see why Harvey Milk was so beloved by his friends and community and it shines through on screen.
It’s also not a story that’s entirely irrelevant today either, with various parts of America introducing similar civil liberty curtailing bills against gays being enacted to my perpetual bafflement. The difference now seems to be a lack of the sort of organised and co-ordinated response to these barbarians, the sort of thing that Harvey Milk was so effective at. His influence, it seems, could be used today more than ever.
Every paragraph I spent typing about Milk represents seconds you, gentle reader, are spending reading this rather than watching Milk, so let’s round this off quickly by pausing to praise the excellent, extensively researched script from Dustin Lance Black, the excellent direction from Gus Van Sant (of all people), and the excellent performances from a great supporting cast, in particular Josh Brolin.
Still here? Why? Begone ye, and watch Milk.