In 1959, Truman Capote learns of the murder of a Kansas family and decides to write a book about the case. While researching for his novel In Cold Blood, Capote forms a relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith, who is on death row.
Philip Seymour Hoffman,
Clifton Collins Jr.,
Using flashbacks from a statement recorded late in life and archival footage for atmosphere, this film traces Harvey Milk's career from his 40th birthday to his death. He leaves the closet and New York, opens a camera shop that becomes the salon for San Francisco's growing gay community, and organizes gays' purchasing power to build political alliances. He runs for office with lover Scott Smith as his campaign manager. Victory finally comes on the same day Dan White wins in the city's conservative district. The rest of the film sketches Milk's relationship with White and the 1978 fight against a statewide initiative to bar gays and their supporters from public school jobs. Written by
I had little expectations walking into this film. The trailer for this movie has appeared at almost every feature film I've seen for the last two months. But, the trailer is a facile example of this minutely detailed story of the rise of a leader and his martyrdom. While I'm familiar with the story from other sources (Shilts' "The Mayor of Castro Street," and the 1984 documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk"), Gus Van Sant and his cast bring a new immediacy to this story.
None involved in this project could have anticipated the political climate of the premiere of this film: Both the hope of the Obama Presidency and the propaganda that helped Proposition 8 win in California. It seems a perfect environment for this story to reach across America.
The dignity with which all of this is told and acted is its success. At the same time, it doesn't shy away from the culture of the Castro. Perhaps the greatest compliment is the rendering of Dan White here. He is neither demonized nor excused.
We also don't get a white-washed version of Harvey Milk. He's there on the screen with all his foibles and kinks. Although his humanism shines in Sean Penn's unsettlingly accurate portrayal. It was Milk's love of--and impatience with--the rest of us that makes him a legend. And that is center stage in this film.
What Van Sant gives us is both humbling and an inspiration.
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