Saturday, January 10, 2009


Got Milk?

Biopics work for me because I'm innately curious about that aspect of a person's life which makes it compelling enough for others to want to make a film out of it. This film by Gus Van Sant tells the story of California's first openly gay elected official Harrvey Milk over the span of the last 8 and definitely more fruitful years of his life where he discovers his calling ironically after confessing to a lover that he had so far not done anything constructive with his, and then with their subsequent move to San Franscisco.

Milk is one of the films this year up for a number of accolades, more notably for Sean Penn's nuanced performance as Harvey Milk. I thought he had, with the help of make up, totally disappeared into the role, and gave it his all as the soft spoken, and idealistic political rookie who had to take on the big boys, as well as deep rooted bigotry and prejudice. And not only that, he has to contend with keeping his partner Scott Smith (James Franco) emotionally satisfied, since it's no longer a private world of their own, but one which faced the tussle of precious time as he finds it his calling to take up political office. I felt that while Franco has to date played plenty of pretty boy action roles, here he ramps up his dramatic performance opposite veteran Sean Penn, and managed to hold his own too.

Not only that, the ensemble cast here had been top notch, and that's not only just kudos to the make up team in having them resemble their real life counterparts to a T. Josh Brolin as Dan White always had this unpredictable edge to him, and his involvement in the inevitable finale was nothing short of chilling to witness. Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones plays one of Harvey's key assistants, and his role here was quite endearing, despite being only in a supporting capacity.

Watching this film, you can't help but to appreciate just how long the USA took to change its perception and acceptance of the GLBT community. It takes relentless, continuous effort to effect change from within the political system through a very charismatic personality supported by his own grassroots. As the saying goes, change is the only constant and is inevitable, and one of the strategies undertaken here was to come out of the closet, so that friends and family could demolish the stigma of demonizing those who are queer and come to accept them, since after all, they could be immediate friends and family. This I thought was a smart move since it almost does away with negative perception and destructive assumptions, though it calls for a very stout heart for anyone to reveal who they truly are.

Gus Van Sant had wonderfully mixed the filmed narrative with real archival footages to add that sense of realism to this biopic. He doesn't paint that pitch perfect portrait of Harvey Milk, and provided a sense of balance in that it does take whatever method that works to try and drum up support for their movement. Which I thought had echoed that plenty of successful ideologies thrive, not because what persists is that charismatic representative, but that of the doctrine that people subscribe to.

And collectively and persistently, change can be effected. There's nothing too fancy about the way Harvey Milk's life got presented here, but it delivered where it mattered in having a solid narrative to illustrate the life of a man who's in pursuit to eradicate negative mindsets and the deeply harboured prejudice of man. The homosexual subject matter may be central here to the cause, but put aside, the same struggles and challenges to overcome are universal conditions that everyone will go through at one point or another. A highly recommended movie.

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