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Gus Van Sant's talent and humility allows Harvey Milk to be a the center of this remarkable story without putting himself in front of the camera. Sean Penn shines with a new and extraordinary light as Harvey Milk. His humanity is overwhelming at times. That permanent smile defining his face talks volumes about his faith in people, no matter what. His awareness is filled with truth and innocence, he worries he's about to be 40 and hasn't accomplished anything. Little did he know.The film is constructed brilliantly in a series of vignettes that builds up into a whole fluid narrative. Josh Brolin, as the disturbed Dan White is another standout in a complex and remarkable performance. No cheap shots here. Diego Luna, Joseph Cross and Emile Hirsch are also terrific as the boys around Harvey but it is James Franco who truly gets under your skin. His romantic turn is one of the most compelling gay love stories I've ever seen (and I've seen Brokeback Mountain). Highly recommended!
Enormously moving film/document about the raise and fall of Harvey Milk. If you don't know who he was, you will. The most startling feature of the film is the casting of Sean Penn. A stroke of genius. I, personally, never would have though that the range of this fantastic actor was as wide as this. He took me over and convinced me. I was watching Harvey Milk himself and Penn with the extraordinary support of his director never betrays that illusion. I'm sorry "Milk" didn't come out a few weeks ago. For those in California having to vote for Proposition 8, it would have been easier to decide just by watching Anita Bryant ranting about the evils of homosexuality. She sounded ridiculous then, Im sure, but today she sounds ridiculously ancestral. The vision of Harvey Milk is still, unfulfilled but we're certainly getting closer. Gus Van Sant surrounds our hero by an extraordinary group of young actors, in particular Emile Hirsch, James Franco and a superlative Josh Brolin. Not to be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It happened only 30 years ago but it looks and feels as if it had been much, much longer and yet we're still dealing with many of the same issues. Gus Van Sant moves slightly and respectfully to mainstream to tell us this inspiring and tragic story. Sean Penn is superb as Harvey Milk, none of the traits that made him famous are present here, other than his talent that is, he exudes a positive sweetness that is compelling and contagious. Josh Brolin as Dan White, manages the impossible by giving the assassin an unexpected but welcome humanity. James Franco as Milk's lover is, quite simply, scrumptious. As it happens with most biopics we're forced to run from event to event to be fair and accurate and "Milk" suffers from that. I wanted more insight into Diego Luna's character - the most problematic - and into Emile Hirsch's character but the essentials are here and the essentials must be listed in lyrical terms. History yes but also poetry. Hope as a theme. A triumph!
Let's get one thing out of the way. Is it entertaining? And how! Sean Penn's best performance to date Oscar quality; Emile Hirsch riotously perfect (best "supporting?"); James Franco heartbreaking; Diego Luna, devastating; Josh Brolin, flawless. Not one false note in any of the actors a very complicated story unfolds with absolute clarity. I will be seeing this one again just for the screenplay. I was very gratified that no attempt is made to be "delicate" about Harvey Milk's personality, either his sex life or his out-sized ego, which perhaps ironically for some, makes him all the more heroic. The finest "political" film I think I've ever seen. It does more than dramatize a strong true story, it captures convincingly the truth about a whole political movement. (One that's as freshly active as today's headlines: Prop 6 or Prop 8 does it ever end?) There is an ease and familiarity to the "scene" to the historical period and place with very few, small anachronisms, as far as I could tell. This is also the most assured work of Gus Van Sant, a genuine film artist, who here delivers a complete drama with real visual style and brazen wit. The blending of documentary footage is the most seamless I can remember seeing anywhere. The crowd scenes are remarkable, and all of the location shooting miraculously right. For a couple of fast, fast hours, I felt as though I had spent a couple of days hilarious, intense, inspiring days immersed in 1970s San Francisco. This movie does what all movies should do. See it.
"Milk" sees Gus Van Sant return to the mainstream after nearly a decade
of divisive 'arthouse' films, a spell he might have felt was necessary
after directing "Psycho" and "Finding Forrester" back to back. The
stunning, beautiful "Gerry" is still his greatest film in my
estimation, but Van Sant's return to near-unanimous mainstream acclaim
and some level of box-office success in "Milk" actually isn't too far
off as far as Van Sant's filmography goes. Some may express
disappointment that "Milk" is a 'conventional' biopic, but it really
isn't conventional at all.
True, this could have been the sort of melancholy meditation Van Sant has been going for in recent years, but the best argument against that is that Harvey Milk is not that figure. He's not going to sit quietly and contemplate life. Perhaps he might have before we meet him on the eve of his fortieth birthday, but from that point onwards Harvey Milk was a man of action, of words, a man with the powerful ability to rally people for a cause, and not only gay people. He had a rare sort of energy, and an energetic film was needed to tell his story. Most impressive perhaps about Van Sant's direction and Dustin Lance Black's screenplay is that there are just as many of those melancholic, meditative moments as needed, just enough to make this a compelling character study and not a truly conventional biopic with a hero rather than a main character. The photography here is also simply gorgeous, and the camera work is outstanding, particularly the hand-held work during the rally scenes. It really succeeds in transporting you to 1970's San Francisco.
Sean Penn has frequently annoyed me. I respect his abilities, but reserve the right to express my subjective annoyance at what I perceive as sometimes hilarious over-acting. When I found out that he was going to play Harvey Milk I was nervous, since I have admired Harvey Milk ever since I was first exposed to him through the Rob Epstein documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk", which is still the best movie made about Harvey Milk, with "Milk" running a close second, and I doubt Bryan Singer's "Mayor of Castro Street" will be a serious contender. I had no reason to be nervous. Penn's performance is one of the most vibrant, fascinating, brilliant performances in years, and one of the most convincing and human. It's not a Harvey Milk impression, it's more than just that, but he truly does capture the 'essence' of Milk, if you will.
It is pointless to make a political statement in the body of this review, so take this as one only if you have to: it is disgusting that in 2008 gay rights still a matter of political debate. This film is a powerful, beautiful tribute to the rights movement. It's not a Democrats vs. Republicans film. In fact, it makes it clear that Harvey Milk was once a Republican, and sneaks in footage of Reagan in strong opposition of Proposition 6. Those short scenes should provoke some thought and discussion. They certainly did for me and the people I saw the film with. Ultimately however the film is not about an 'issue'. Harvey Milk says to Dan White that it's not about jobs or rights, that it's their lives that they were and still are fighting for. Ultimately this film is about people, not about issues, not about policy. It's about people who were told they were sick, who were told they were wrong, who were told they would corrupt society, who were accused of being pedophiles and attempting to 'recruit' children to homosexuality. The film is about Harvey Milk, a mere human being who did more for freedom and tolerance than he probably ever understood.
"I am not a candidate, I am part of a movement. The movement is the candidate."
Unfortunately, the fight against the rampant discrimination against and hatred of homosexuals is still not over. Milk's movement lives on, and grows stronger every day. He would be proud of that, and devastated that our society has not truly progressed, but only learned to mask its intolerance and hatred.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw Milk a while back, I was really looking forward to it because I
had written a paper in my history class on Harvey Milk. We were
learning about movements in the 60's and 70's, as a straight female, I
saw one of my friends struggling with his sexuality and how hard it was
for society, his friends, his own family excepting him for who he was.
I wanted to find out more on the history of how we had either moved
forward or backwards when it came to rights for homosexuals. Reading
Harvey Milk's story was sad but extremely inspirational and looking at
what people said about him, he seemed like the most lovable guy in the
world. He was funny, charming, and just a wonderful person to be
around, it was extremely sad to find out how his life ended and over
something so stupid. Milk is one of the best films of 2008, it was made
with great taste and Sean Penn delivers the performance of a lifetime
playing the infamous Harvey Milk.
Unsatisfied with his life and in need of a change, Harvey Milk decides to move to San Francisco with his boyfriend in hoping of a better acceptance. They open Castro Camera in the heart of Eureka Valley, a working class neighborhood in the process of evolving into a predominantly gay neighborhood known as The Castro. Frustrated by the opposition they encounter in the once Irish-Catholic neighborhood, Milk utilizes his background as a businessman to become a gay activist, eventually becoming a mentor for Cleve Jones. After two unsuccessful political campaigns in 1973 and 1975 to become a city supervisor and a third in 1976 for the California State Assembly, Milk finally wins a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 for District 5. His victory makes him the first openly gay man to be voted into major public office in the United States. Milk subsequently meets fellow Supervisor Dan White, a Vietnam veteran and former police officer and firefighter. White, who is politically and socially conservative, has a difficult relationship with Milk. He has a growing resentment for Milk, largely due to the attention paid to Milk by the press and his colleagues. After working tirelessly against Proposition 6, Milk and his supporters rejoice in the wake of its defeat. The increasingly unstable White is in favor of a supervisor pay raise, but does not get much support, and shortly after supporting the proposition, resigns from the board. He later changes his mind and asks the city to rescind his decision. Mayor Moscone denies his request, after having been lobbied by Milk to not reinstate White, leading to some disturbing acts of violence.
I HIGHLY recommend that you watch Milk, this film was extremely moving and really makes you think before you say something stupid because someone else is different from you, not just sexually, but in general. It really breaks your heart to see how hard it must be for people who are different to express themselves and to be rejected by society. Sean plays Harvey with the love and compassion that the real Harvey would respect. We also have some terrific supporting actors: James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and Victor Garber. Milk was one of the best films of 2008, watch it, learn from it, and remember: do onto others as you would do onto yourself.
Just caught the Portland premiere and have a few thoughts.
Very thankful this film was made. Until now, it seemed like I was fairly alone in knowing about Harvey's legacy. After "Milk" starts getting attention....I hope that a whole new generation will come to know the Mayor of Castro Street (see Randy Shilt's book) and the importance of the gay rights movement.
That being said, Van Sant's "Milk" is great marriage of art and history. Instead of a dry portrait of an assasinated leader, we get a beautifully rendered flavor of the times, and an intimate vision of a man finding his place within a community and history.
Casting is brilliant. Penn inhabits Harvey Milk in a way that few actors I believe would be capable. His physicality and energy is very believable - and it's easy to forget what actor you're watching. After a while...it's just Harvey. I could go on about the supporting cast...all very solid in their own way. James Franco (Scotty) stands out as well....showing his range and willingness to expand as an actor.
Kudos all the way around...I see this film getting several nods at Oscar time.
Additionally...Rob Epstein's Oscar-winning 1984 documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" is a definite must for anyone who enjoyed this film. I watched it right after "Milk" - and am still impressed with how affecting it is.
I never vibrated together with Van Sant, but this time I must say he
The main merit of "Milk" is that it conveys A MORAL PRINCIPLE - in an extraordinarily powerful, and stylish too, way. Or, as it's also stated: "What matters is the fight, more than the outcome!" The script, very dense and well organized, follows the fastidious steps of building up a message, at the same time respecting the ingrate historic chronology - the perpetual dilemma of the docudrama. All around this structure, the direction skilfully grows-up the flesh of the human content, social layers and ethical matters. It turns out a definite lesson of movie-making, for all to see and learn.
I should also add that my country, Romania, is just passing through the historical stage that "Milk" is depicting: pushing homophobia into obsolescence and reaching normality. As such, initially our rating commission came with a positively ludicrous decision: banning "Milk" for the 18- audiences, because (hear this, as a pearl of idiocy!) "It makes propaganda for a certain sexual orientation!" I gave them a piece of my mind, in my own review, pointing out that the movie only MAKES PROPAGANDA FOR MORALS, so it should be recommended to ALL AGES AUDIENCES, no matter how young! In the end, after an official complain, they relented and lowered the rating to "not recommended to under-15". Still silly, but one can't have it all, can we? Thank God, audiences who don't care about this movie will ignore it, and those who do, will see it nonetheless. And become better human beings.
I saw this last night at the Portland premiere with Gus Van Sant and
James Franco among others. This is a powerful work and, in my opinion,
Gus Van Sant has taken a big step towards the mainstream in his
artistic direction. To me, the person who is by no means a movie
expert, it seems that this movie had a much faster, accessible pace
than his other movies. There were no long-shots or minutes at a time
without dialog, etc.
I've really never thought much of Sean Penn before, but, with this role, I expect him to sweep up the awards. Everyone was great in their parts, but he did such an excellent job in portraying the Harvey Milk that I have seen before in clips and documentaries. They did not make out Milk to be a choir-boy, which was one thing I was afraid was going to happen. This story seems long overdue in it's telling, but so completely relevant to today's news.
I expect, as the movie hits theaters, this will cause quite a stir, with both sides using it as fodder in their fight. I expect the ratings will reflect this as there are already people giving it 0's who obviously did not attend the premiere. I don't think it deserves a 10 either, but is much, much closer to that end. Looked at objectively, it is a sometimes tearful, sometimes funny movie that was put together masterfully
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