Rarely is watching a movie a visceral experience. Milk is that film. Prepare to be so efficiently transported to 1970’s San Francisco that you’ll be shocked when the movie house lights come back on and you find yourself in the here and now.
Not only is this intelligent filmmaking at it’s finest, it also has the gift of perfect timing. Cleve Jones is quoted saying that he and Gus Van Sant talked about making this film eighteen years ago. Some things are worth the wait. I can’t think of a single aspect of this film that could be changed. Everyone is perfectly cast, the pace of the story, sets the right mood and Gus Van Sant’s careful directorial eye, make this one powerful movie going experience.
Watching this film was quite surreal for me. I was eleven years old when Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk were assassinated and I was living just a couple of neighborhoods away in San Francisco’s Mission District. At that time in my life, I had never been to the Castro District. I remember the story on the news. I remember the flags all over the city being at half mast, yet the historical significance and true horror of the event was a million miles away from my life. I was also attending San Francisco public school, yet I have no recollection of Proposition 6 as it was being depicted in the film. That none of these events affected my daily life I think says a lot for the assimilation that Milk was fighting for. San Francisco has always been the perfect model for different peoples living in harmony.
Sean Penn completely embodies the late Harvey Milk. We are never surprised by a phenomenal performance from Penn, but this one truly stands out. Time will tell if this will garner a second Academy Award for Penn. Although everyone turned in top-notch performances, the one to watch is Emille Hirsch. His portrayal of Cleve Jones, (who was befriended by Milk and worked as an intern during Milk’s service) lights up every scene he’s in. Too bad he didn’t snag an Oscar nom, but there’s only so much to go around. I hope we see Hirsh turning in better performances such as these and staying away from fluff like Speed Racer.
Kudos to Josh Brolin for taking on the troubled Dan White. He made him a real person. Although difficult to understand, he showed us a man on the precipice of a changing world that he feared would no longer have room for him.
While Penn and Brolin should receive much deserved Oscars, my true hope for recognition is director Gus Van Sant. This is a film where you can truly see and appreciate what a director does. I agree with all of his choices. The things he chose not to show and most importantly, the things he did, were spot on. Sitting through the journey of this film, there where times when I felt I didn’t want to see the events unfold. Maybe it should end on a happy note and we could just use those summary epilogue words. However, in the end, the true horror of it all had to be told and I agreed with every horrific frame I had to watch. It wasn’t easy, but he made all the right calls.
I hope the Oscars will open a wider audience, but my advice to you is…see it, see it, SEE IT!