Saturday, March 21, 2009

Milk: Grade A

Milk (2008)
Sean Penn, Josh Brolin; Director Gus Van Sant.

This biography of San Francisco city councilman Harvey Milk is slow moving, but amazing acting by Penn keeps you glued. Milk was the first openly gay councilman (the first gay elected official in California, actually), who succeeded on his fourth try, in 1977. When he was murdered in 1978 I remember becoming aware for the first time of how demented gay bigotry is. The movie is focused on the man and his complex character, but it is also a documentation of the gay rights movement coming out of the counterculture. Both themes are well illuminated and though-provoking. Sets and costumes are perfect.It must have been difficult to recreate San Francisco street scenes of the 1970’s but I was completely convinced. Great camera work and deft direction are displayed. The camera stays on a conversation just as long as it needs to and not one moment more. Movies don’t get any extra points from me because they are “based on a true story” because all human expression is. If this movie had been a fabrication rather than a biography, it would still be excellent, though lacking in the grand, exaggerated gestures we expect of dramatic productions. Such gestures are only caricatures of life's real dramas, but oddly, when they are missing in a feature film, something feels lacking.

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