In February's Empire magazine, Gus Van Sant addresses the timeliness of Milk, his latest film. Although there are inevitable parallels to be drawn between the film's controlling idea and the recent flurry of Obamamania, this is just a case of good timing.
Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) moves from New York to San Francisco with his lover Scott Smith (James Franco.) He becomes a local figurehead in "the Castro", and later the first ever openly gay man to be elected to U.S. public office. As City Supervisor, he takes his crusade for gay rights nationwide, standing up against conservative intolerance, breaking new ground and boundaries along the way.
What seems like your conventional us vs. them crusade flick on paper becomes a stirring love letter on-screen. Penn more than justifies yesterday's Best Actor Oscar nomination. Rare is the performance which balances an actor's ability and enjoyment, making the leading man all the more impressive. The other principals all turn in fine work, especially Emile Hirsch as Milk's understudy Cleve Jones. And Josh Brolin proves himself, once again, to be the go-to-guy for credible, upper crust undersirables.
Van Sant confidently eschews linear narrative, giving the film an airy but never wayward feel. Building around Milk's recordings allows all the intimacy of voice over narration with none of the "cheese"* risks. Whether detailing Milk's troubled, on-again, off-again relationship with Smith, or his growing accomplishment as a politician, everything clicks. Justin Lance Black is a writer to watch... hopefully, picking up a Little Gold Dude in the process too.**
Milk's message will not be lost on Anti-Flag familiars. You can, indeed, kill the protester, but you can't kill the protest.
Watch it: to feel Eiffel Tower high.
Don't watch it: to prove you have no soul.
Rating: 7.5 (Lieutenant Commander.)
* Stand up and be counted American Beauty.
** I'd prefer it were Martin McDonagh for In Bruges, but what are you gonna' do?
Ian Pratt wishes a Michael Cera or a Jay Baruchel would play him in All Quiet on the East Antrim Front: The Ian Pratt Story, but he knows in his heart it would be D. J. Qualls.