Friday, April 17, 2009


Here's a quiz: name the country that, in the same year, had seen the production of two bio-pics (John Adams and Milk) talking about people who fought for freedom at different times? Yes, it's my neighbours from the South! While I sometimes felt that there were parts when the film was a little bit boring, I was, in the end, glad that to see this film. In fact, forget the entertainment! Gus Van Sant's Milk might tell a story that ends sadly. However, in its fullness, Milk is a triumphant film about what one can accomplish by believing in a goal.

We follow Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), a man from New York, who celebrates his 40th birthday by picking up Scott Smith (James Franco). Eventually, the two of them decide to move to San Francisco where they lead a lifestyle of hippies and open a camera store. In the light of discrimination from the local government, other shop owners and other citizens, Harvey Milk decides to go in politics to improve the condition of homosexuals, get things done for his constituents and be the first openly gay elected officials in the USA.

Of course, what people might not like about bio-pics is that they're just a chain of marking events in the life of the main character (in this case the fight for homosexuals' rights). In the end, who gives a business about that? Despite showing Milk's political struggle, by starting with his first two political campaigns and afterwards his victory, Gus Van Sant manages to give a certain depth to the film in such a condensed way. For instance, think about the scene in which Harvey Milk tell to his male supporters that his political fight must include gay men as much as lesbians when Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill), a lesbian who became Harvey Milk's campaign manager during his campaign for becoming one of San Francisco's members of the Board of Supervisors in 1977, is introduced.

In fact, if this bio-pic will never give us a complete picture of who Harvey Milk was, it, at least, manages to show us Harvey Milk's political thoughts and even his flaws. Hence, the good feeling of distance between the Gus Van Sant and the character that the film analyzes. This means that although the supporting homophobic characters (like Senator Briggs and Anita Bryant) are not shown under a favourable day (why should they, anyway?) the film just sticks to what these characters stated in public. Moreover, the film will also surprise you with its depiction of Milk's relation with people around him, especially with Dan White (Josh Brolin), a fellow Supervisor of San Francisco. As a person who is perceived like a hero, Sean Penn (Mystic River) gives life without difficulty to such a flamboyant character who wants to do something in his life and who also makes Dan White green of envy. He's also well supported by the rest of the cast, especially by Josh Brolin (W).

Finally, I'll conclude this review by addressing a message to my American neighbours. A film like Milk arrives at the right time given that Proposition 8 was approved by referendum in California in November and also because of the annoying place that religion occupies in American politics (that same thing can almost be said about Canadian politics). After all, in the USA there is a separation between the state and the church according to the first Amendment and the Article VI of the Constitution. This means that any politician can't use religion to justify their stances or a decision they take. Nevertheless, I'm glad that many Americans (regardless of the state they live in) are extremely open-minded when I saw Brokeback Mountain and also learnt that same-sex marriages are tolerated in Massachussetts, Connecticut, Iowa (starting April 27, 2009) and in Vermont (starting September 1, 2009). These are small things, but progress is progress.

Rating: 4.5/5

Origin:USA (2008)
Length:128 minutes
Genre:Historical drama
Screenplay:Dustin Lance Black
Director:Gus Van Sant
Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill, Victor Garber and Denis O'Hare

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