Milk


Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by:Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Joseph Cross, Lucas Grabeel
Released: January 29, 2009
Grade: A

History books will show that on 4 November 2008, Barrack Obama became the first black man to be elected as President Of The United States. It is an important date in world history but when you look at the bigger picture, it was merely a milestone in the evolution of African American rights. Obama’s achievement was made possible by the millions of people who have helped promote human rights issues. It has taken hundreds of years but the attitudes of the general population towards African American people have changed for the better.

I thought about this fact when I was watching this film. It is the story of Harvey Milk who in 1977 became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. He was assassinated one year later. Milk’s accomplishments helped destroy some of the misconceptions that the public had with homosexuals. One of his greatest successes was sponsoring a bill which made it illegal for employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation. It was passed by an overwhelming majority of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

As an openly gay man working in Hollywood, I’m sure director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) has encountered his own problems within the industry. If you run through a list of big-name movie stars, you’ll find that very few (if any at all) are openly gay. We’ve all heard whispers about certain actors but the long running belief within the business that "coming out of the closet" is career suicide. How many A-list stars can you name who are openly gay?

I really enjoyed Milk for what it has to say. It is a sad story at times but in the end, the legacy of Harvey Milk is inspiring. He faced tremendous opposition and yet was prepared to stand up for what he believed in. We’ve all seen these types of movies before but the way it has been told by Gus Van Sant left me buzzing when I walked out of the theatre. He placed me in a time-machine, took me back 30 years, and opened my eyes.

Sean Penn (Mystic River) gives an incredible performance in the leading role. The reason this film is so powerful is because Penn is so believable. He isn’t portrayed as a "perfect man" by any means. His enthusiasm towards instigating change came at a cost and he neglected some of his closest friends. I’d actually have liked to have seen this part to Milk’s life explored a little further.

This leads into the film’s only weak spot – the underdevelopment of the supporting characters. James Franco (Spider-Man) and Emile Hirsch (Into The Wild) give career best performances. Franco plays Scott Smith, Milk’s long time boyfriend. Hirsch plays Cleve Jones, an influential kid who helped promote gay rights in the neighbourhood. I wanted to know more about these people and wouldn’t have complained if the film was a half-hour longer.

I have long been a fan of director Gus Van Sant and I appreciate the style with which he has made this movie. He weaves archival footage into the film to great effect. Singer Anita Bryant was a long-time adversary of Harvey Milk with her strong anti-homosexual views. Instead of getting an actor to play the role, actual footage of Bryant is used instead. You’ll be shocked when you hear some of the things she has to say and this is exactly the reaction that Van Sant wants.

There are a few things I might have done differently if I were sitting in the director’s chair but above all else, this is a commanding film which has been crafted by a talented cast and crew. It won me over and it is sure to earn a spot in my "top 10" list at the end of the year.