Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Director: Gus Van Sant
Budget: $15 million (estimated)
Gross: $4 284 465 (as of December 7th, 2008)
Milk, the new gus van sant film about the first openly gay man elected to public office will have you thinking one minute, 'look how far we have come' and then the next minute thinking, 'we really haven't come that far after all'.
one cannot help but watch this film in the shadow of the recent proposition 8 vote in california and while that could have mired this film in politics and message, it doesn't. not that you would blame it though, if it had. i mean, if any film has a right to get up on its political high-horse and preach it is a film about a man running for political office, fighting the homophobic forces around him. yet, in Milk, the message and the politics are woven beautifully into this story of a man who decided that he could make a difference and did.
a man who could have gotten angry and given up many times, but instead kept fighting and using the system to gain politically and legally for his community. and almost always, with a smile on his face, when no one would have blamed him for not smiling.
it all feels true to the times and who harvey milk is and while i really knew very little about him before seeing the movie, i walked out of there completely impressed with who he was, how many lives he touched and how he went about doing it. i am not giving anything away to say he is killed at the end of the movie(the film pretty much begins with a news report stating that fact), and the the candle lit march through san fransisco following his murder is such a moving scene, especially when van sant edits in actual news footage of the march and you see the aerial shots and the sea of light moving through the city. it in no way feels manipulative or grandiose, but rather completely true and a celebration of a man who made a difference.
a man who as he was turning 40 said that he hadn't done anything with his life and that he probably wouldn't make it to 50. he was right about the latter, and he definitely changed the former.
biographies are often a tricky business. i mean, you have to decide how much you are going to tell and where you are going to start. van sant could have decided to start from the beginning and give us a view of milk's childhood and development towards what he would become, but he didn't. rather it starts off just a short time before harvey begins his one or many runs for political office. and it works. through penn's incredible performance and a really smart script, we really do get to know who harvey milk is.
penn has got himself a nomination wrapped up with this one, but his supporting cast is top notch as well and gus van sant has done a great job of telling a story of a time, a man and a movement that took two steps forward and currently seems to be taking one step back.