Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna
There is no doubt that Milk will go down as a film offering one of Sean Penn’s best performances till date. Milk is one of those films that is extremely well structured and boasts of some great performances along with a strong story. The only let down is the fact that it is unhurried and flows at a snail’s pace.
Penn portrays the life of Harvey Milk, the first gay man to be elected into any government position. The film traverses Milk’s life right from his 40th birthday till his assassination. Through the film you witness the growth and organized movement of the gay community in San Francisco, the opposition faced by Milk from Anita Bryant and Dan White (Josh Brolin). You also witness the estranged love of Milk and Scott Smith (James Franco) and the change of a conservative system into a more liberal one.
What’s great about the film is the fact that at no point is there a dip in the story. It’s like this brilliant build up to an even harder hitting end. You walk out of the theatre both overjoyed having watched the film and teary eyed with the fact that Milk’s life ended with his assassination. The power of this film lies in the convincing manner the story is told and the fact that it is filled with emotions. The use of archival footage and audio files through the film to carry it forward and add depth is absolutely fantastic.
Filled with great and intense moments the film flows effortlessly. Just as there are intense moments there are lots of witty one liners delivered by Penn as well those that generate a few laughs. Watch the scene where Milk is questioned if men can reproduce for which he instantly replies something to the effect of "God knows we try." The depth filled characters and the brilliant narrative is what essentially makes the movie, Penn then adds to it manifold with the brilliant portrayal of his character. The simplistic tale has purpose and that is a great thing; the film is essentially about one central character and that’s all you see. Random tangents, mingled lives et al is avoided and that is a major plus. Even when the film resorts to showcasing Milk’s personal life it is in context of the film and the story and nothing out of it.
You see this gradual build up and because it is gradual, you find yourself immersed into the film. Technically the film is spot on. The detailing coupled with the cohesive almost storyboarded like structure works seemingly well. The film primarily belongs to Penn, he gets into the character and everything from his body language to his expressions blows you away. Watch the scene where he first meets Scott at the subway… sheer brilliance.
Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna too do a great job at enacting their roles; they add to the film and stand out with their performances. Brolin as White is remarkable as well, his performance as well as the manner in which his character is built up is commendable. If anything you must see Milk for Penn and Brolin, more so for Penn.
The film has a great story, fantastic performances and explores bold sexuality. Milk is strongly recommended. Go armed with the benefit of time and you won’t be disappointed. The film is slow but totally worth the time and money.