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Director Gus Van Sant's return to relevance


Studio:Focus Features
Director:Gus Van Sant
Cast:Sean Penn, Allison Pill, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco
Genre:Drama, Biography
Our Rating:

The moment in Milk that stuck with me the most happens before Harvey is even out of the closet.

ďIím 40 years old and I havenít done a thing Iím proud of,Ē says Harvey Milk, whose considerable achievements within a brief few years of his 40th birthday include being one of the first openly gay elected officials in America.

As someone well past the Loganís Run sell-by date myself, this really resonates, which only proves that no matter the focus of a movie, people will look at it and see themselves.

Actually, all of America will see itself in Milk, a film that comes hot on the heels of successful anti-gay marriage legislation in three states, including our own.

Milk largely focuses on the hate-wave that followed the passing of Dade County, Flaís anti-discrimination laws in 1977. The backlash included Californiaís Briggs Initiative, which would have prevented gay teachers from working in public schools. It failed, but three weeks later, Harvey Milk and San Francisco mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by Milkís fellow city supervisor Dan White.

Milk is a captivating film and its best quality is fusion, the blend of then-and-now issues acting as a societal mirror. Where we see ourselves in this film, however, isnít just in the issues, but in the man. Harvey Milk had all the traits we Americans prize within ourselves: He was a cheeky self-starter, streetwise and likeable, compassionate and tireless. Mostly, though, he had a big mouth and never demurred from shooting it off in the service of fairness.

Van Sant so perfectly captures the late í70s that when he intermingles documentary footage, itís hard to tell when the footage has ended and the movie has started back up. Sean Penn inhabits the role of Harvey Milk completely, which is a real pleasure since many actors at his level of fame have such huge personas you canít forget who they are (which is their freaking million-dollar job). The supporting cast meets the bar that Penn sets. Josh Brolin is flawless as White, the family-values time bomb; Emile Hirsch is so entrenched as activist Cleve Jones that I didnít recognize him at first; and James Franco, as Milkís longtime partner Scott Smith, is the perfect low-key, late-í70s hipster (and his disco ífro makes him look like a lithe version of his Freaks and Geeks co-star Seth Rogan).

The film is a beautiful reminder of a man and his principals Ė our principals Ė that no amount of violence has been able to bring down. And regardless of age, he did something to be proud of.
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