On Thursday afternoon, Tara and I went to go see Milk. Ever since I watched the trailer a few months ago while my RRHB was on tour, it's been a film I've really looked forward to seeing. A biopic directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk depicts the life of Harvey Milk, the US's first openly gay man to be elected to political office. The way Van Sant chooses to tell the story, with Milk (Sean Penn) narrating a taped letter to be listened to should he lose his life, feels traditional, but it doesn't mean the movie itself ends up stereotypical. Jesse Wente was talking a little bit about this in his column on Friday.
On the eve of his 40th birthday, Harvey Milk and his younger lover, Scott Smith (James Franco, sigh.) decide to leave New York City for greener pastures. The pair land in San Francisco and set up a camera shop in the Castro district. Soon Milk's involved in all kinds of local politics, and he becomes a grassroots activist for the gay rights movement. He runs for office, once, twice, three times and loses until his campaign finally picks up steam (through hard work, dedication and the end of his relationship with Smith) and he wins. The newly appointed city supervisor makes a name for himself in the fight against Proposition 6 and wins there too. One of his opponents, a bitter, angry man named Dan White resigns, and then when he discovers exactly what it means to quit his position, returns to City Hall and shoots both Milk and the mayor, George Moscone.
The film, both poignant and patient at the same time, treats its subject matter with a deep sense of responsibility without ever falling into the earnest trap that normally plagues these pictures. The easiest reason for the film's success lies upon the shoulders of its impressive cast. Sean Penn excels as Harvey Milk and his is a fearless, thorough performance by an actor never ashamed to submerse himself into a challenging role. There's not a single mistep among the supporting cast of James Franco, Emile Hirsh, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill and Diego Luna. You can't help but come out of the theatre wondering about how the same state that worked so hard to defeat Prop 6 has now repealed Prop 8, and about how Milk's messages of hope, recruitment, honesty, all have echoes in Obama's ridiculously inspiring speeches. It's a political movie that carries a political message -- let's just hope that people continue to listen.
Now, let's talk Oscar: Penn for Best Actor for sure, and a part of me hopes that Josh Brolin gets nominated for Best Supporting Actor and wins, just because he should.