Sunday, December 14, 2008


This is not an easy movie to review for me as tells a story that’s important for many in the world (yes, the world, as if happens in America then is a little easier that happens elsewhere) and besides being a history lesson for many that today enjoy rights Harvey Milk influenced by changing the course of history, this film and story also tells about touchy things that not many are willing to talk about and perhaps I will, if I dare.

Yes I have heard about Harvey Milk and know a little about him, I remember many of the issues that where happening in USA in the late ‘70’s (like infamous Anita Bryant), I didn’t wanted to watch the Rob Epstein 1984 documentary (that I haven’t seen) before watching Milk, as I wanted to be “objective” when watching the movie and that’s all the background I had before watching the movie.

But before talking about the story (that’s the hard part) let’s talk about the movie as a movie. As many critics’ say, this is a “different” Gus Van Sant movie and one sample is what Todd McCarthy says in his review that I include an excerpt.

“The normalizing demands of the biopic genre necessarily squeeze the director into a more recognizable format than he has employed since at least “Finding Forrester” eight years ago, and it’s possible that the most ardent fans of his variously beautiful and aggravating subsequent works -- “Gerry,” “Elephant,” “Last Days” and “Paranoid Park” -- will find this one too conventional.”

I definitively find this movie “too conventional” for Gus Van Sant, but I also find that is a powerful movie because the excellent and authentic recreation of San Francisco and the Castro district in the ‘70’s, outstanding editing to flawlessly integrate old footage in the narrative, engaging storytelling pace, compelling screenplay by Dustin Lance Black as it seems like an accurate and objective account of real events, and even when Van Sant changed his particular style, this is definitively a Van Sant movie when you think that he always has “gravitated toward trangressive outcast characters” and definitively Harvey Milk is one man that in real life traveled far from the margins into the status quo and had such convulsive impact on many.

Still, there were many moments that I felt I was watching a documentary and I’m not referring to the inclusion of real footage but to when actors were performing and my take is that because of the way the story is told at moments it felt more like a history lesson, rather than a compelling drama that wanted to “move and/or touch” general audiences.

But what this movie really has are remarkable and unforgettable performances by Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, James Franco and yes, Diego Luna even when he was performing a very unstable character that perhaps was not really well developed, at least to really understand the reasons behind his instability. On the not positive side I have to mention that there are a few scenes that I was not able to watch the characters as I was watching the actors performing, meaning -for example- that I was watching Sean Penn and not Harvey Milk on the screen.

But my net-take-away is that’s an interesting movie as a political relevant bio docudrama, especially because its so good timing release after California voted Yes on Proposition 8. Now let’s get into the story.

The story is told as a flashback with Harvey Milk recording his story since he moved from New York to San Francisco with his lover Scott Smith, to opening his camera shop that became the center of the gay movement. After two unsuccessful political campaigns to become a city supervisor in 1977 he finally wins a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for Disctrict 5, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into major public office in the United States. His political achievement drains his personal life as Scott and later Jack Lira can’t tolerate Milk’s obsession and devotion to political activism. What follows is Milk gaining significant power and making one particular enemy in the way, Dan White, who finally kills him and Mayor Moscone.

As you can imagine there are many situations in the story that I was not aware, but none was so impact full as seeing and hearing what I’ll talk about. His lover Scott managed milk’s two unsuccessful political campaigns and when he leaves him Milk does something unusual according to him and his close friends, he hires a woman, a lesbian woman! Those particular moments in the story and the movie were really disturbing and emotional for me. Why? Because they talk and show something that not many LGTB’s movies dare to talk or show. Clearly they show the gender discrimination that still today prevails between homosexual men and women. As in many minorities around the world, the worst kind of division comes within themselves and homosexual minorities have many issues that divide them and do not allow them to become a major force when fighting for whatever they need to show a united front. None is more appalling for me than gender discrimination. Unfortunately is a reality inherited from society division of gender roles and female discrimination that homosexual minorities have not been able to eradicate even when many homosexual men and women have been fighting to do so, but still is far from really happening.

In this sense the movie was a hard to digest slice of history that almost 40 years after happened is still present in the everyday life of many, as many gay men have very little tolerance of lesbian women and vice versa. Still, I appreciate that they mention/show it and I just hope that this opening will provoke others to more openly discuss this matter in whatever forms they can including movies, books and open forums. Only getting this issue out-of-the-closet could help to the more understanding and hopefully if general society does not give the example, perhaps a minority could do so.

Yes this is a movie about human rights and that’s a hot issue in the US, as well as in many other countries of the world, and as such I believe this movie should motivate viewers to discuss whatever provokes in them. I dared to share with you loyal readers of this blog what really touched and provoked me.

The movie as movie has been shut down from many already announced major awards nominations and is Sean Penn performance that has been honored with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor. Still prestigious American awards like the New York Film Critics Circle Awards named Milk as the Best Picture, Sean Penn as Best Actor and Josh Brolin as Best Supporting Actor; the Los Angeles Film Critics awarded Sean Penn the Best Actor award, as well as the National Board of Review. The film has several nominations in the Critics’ Choice Award and the Satellite Awards. I hope that when the Academy announces the nominations the film gets more than the Best Actor category, as will really stimulate more viewers to watch this outstanding story and film.

Definitively a must be seen for many that read the blog and I strongly suggest to true cinema lovers to not miss Sean Penn performance as is one of his best. To Gus Van Sant fans I suggest not to miss it, but be aware that the movie does not follow his particular style and feels/looks definitively mainstream. Finally I suggest to adult general audiences to give it a try as a learning and hopefully “opening-eyes” experience in human rights issues.

Big Enjoy!!!

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