Film review: “Milk”

Sean Penn (center) and Diego Luna (far right) in Gus Van Sant’s film about slain 1970s gay-rights icon Harvey Milk, which evil, liberal Hollywood is going to award some Oscars.

I remember when I used to see containers of homogenized milk labeled as “homo milk” and jokingly thinking: Gee! They make milk just for people like me!

OK, I got that out of the way, so now I can proceed to write about Gus Van Sant’s “Milk”:

Wow. What a film.

Usually when they hype a film I’m disappointed when I see it, but “Milk” — which I saw today with my closest female friend (and lately I’ve been dragging her to so many gay-related things that I’m thinking that she and I need to go to a monster truck rally very soon in order to balance it out) — exceeded my expectations.

There’s a little bit of sappiness in “Milk,” especially at the end, but in “Milk” gay-rights-movement icon Harvey Milk is portrayed as a hard-nosed politician who even manipulated — hell, who even more or less manufactured — events for political gain more than he is portrayed as a martyred saint.

I haven’t read the late gay journalist Randy Shilts’ biography of Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street, a copy of which I’ve had for years and years, but in “Milk,” Harvey is portrayed as having apparently betrayed his eventual assassin, fellow San Francisco Supervisor Dan White, after they had agreed to help each other win what the other wanted on the city’s board of supervisors (which is the equivalent of a typical city council).

In “Milk” Harvey Milk is portrayed as having gotten at least a bit drunk on power (after he finally won an election), such as in the scene in which he threatens the late San Francisco Mayor George Moscone that if Moscone doesn’t do what Milk wants him to do, Moscone will lose the support of the gay community, spelling the end of Moscone’s political career. Harvey played hardball, if “Milk” is historically accurate.

Oh, hell, I’ll just come out (so to speak…) and say it: “Milk” isn’t too shy to portray the possibility that Milk contributed to his own murder by having antagonized, unnecessarily, his nemesis White.

Not that White had to resort to murder, but he was pushed, if “Milk” is historically accurate. Milk had gotten what he wanted — a gay-rights city ordinance passed — by an overwhelming vote of the board of supervisors, so there was no reason, that I can tell, that it would have harmed Milk, politically, to have stayed out of the issue of whether White should have been allowed to return to the board of supervisors after he had resigned, citing his too-low salary as the reason. 

I congratulate Van Sant’s “Milk” for portraying Harvey Milk as a flawed hero. Power corrupts even the best of us.

I found “Milk” inspiring — I probably finally will read Shilts’ biography of Milk, and I probably will volunteer at my local gay and lesbian community center on “Day Without a Gay” on Wednesday — and it moved me to tears more than once or twice during its two-hour run, and it’s not many movies that can induce me to shed a tear.

It’s too bad that “Milk,” with its rather extensive portrayal of the defeat of the odious anti-gay Proposition 6, was released after the narrow passage of the odious anti-gay Proposition 8 last month, but, I suppose, better late than never. “Milk” can only help the campaign to overturn Prop 8, and since the wingnuts, who are utterly lacking in talent and brains, can’t make a film that anyone would want to see, they have no answer. 

“Milk” is going to be to the gay community what “Brokeback Mountain” was, but while “Brokeback” only indirectly tackles the issue of gay rights, “Milk” tackles the subject head on, and does it with the star power of Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Josh Brolin as Dan White, and James Franco as Milk’s long-time love Scott Smith.

Poor Sean Penn probably will get a best-actor Oscar, and that all he had to do was kiss the gorgeous James Franco to get it. I hate Sean Penn! No, but seriously, Penn did a kick-ass job as Milk, and Franco did a great job, too; the actors’ intimate interactions are quite convincing as two men who love and who are in love with each other.

Josh Brolin turned in another of his usually reliable performances (I didn’t like “No Country for Old Men” overall, but I liked Brolin’s performance in it), playing a Dan White who seems, with his obsession over homosexuality, possibly to be a closet case and who is more of a sympathetic character in “Milk” than you would have expected him to be.

Diego Luna did a great job as Jack Lira, Milk’s spitfire Latino lover who came after Milk and Scott Smith split up. Just as the real-life Lira apparently got second billing to Smith, so, it seems, Luna’s great performance as Milk’s passionate and unstable lover Lira is getting second billing to Franco’s performance. (Just don’t do anything crazy, Diego!)

Emile Hirsch as young activist Cleve Jones is getting rave reviews, but I think that Luna worked harder. Hirsch is best in the scene in which he and Milk first meet, but Luna’s role, it seems to me, was more demanding.

Like “Brokeback Mountain” was nominated for several Oscars, expect “Milk” to be nominated for several Oscars, too — and expect the wingnut motherfuckers to bitch and moan once again about how liberal Hollywood loves to give Oscars to movies about fags.

I expect an Oscar win for Penn and for director Van Sant, whose departure from his often-eccentric cinematic style (“My Own Private Idaho,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” and “Elephant” come to mind) seems to have been done with a best-director Oscar in mind. “Milk” just might win best picture, too, which would nice after the passage of Proposition Hate — er, 8.

My grade: A

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Film review: “Milk”

  1. Hopeful Again

    Bravo! What a great film…

    “Anita! You liah! We’ll set your hair on fiah!”

    I now officially LOVE you, Sean Penn.

    Before?

    Notsomuch.

  2. robertdcrook

    Yeah, while watching “Milk” it struck me that Anita Bryant was Sarah Palin’s inspiration…

    You dress nicely and smile and pretend to be loving and sweet and talk about God and Jeeezus while the venom drips from your fangs…

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