Friday, February 20, 2009

Review: Milk

This is without a doubt the gayest movie I've ever seen, and also one of the best of 2008.  I thought Mickey Rourke was a shoe-in for Best Actor after seeing The Wrestler, but Sean Penn's performance in Milk is without a doubt one of the best performances of the past few years.  He completely immerses himself in the role of Harvey Milk, a gay man living in San Francisco who became the chief advocate for gay rights in America in the 70's.  It's hard to play an openly gay man in that era in San Francisco without pushing the performance over the top, but Penn completely nails just the right tone for Milk.  While flamboyant at times, Penn gives a grounded sense of purpose to Milk and the audience really believes his drive for the cause he champions throughout the movie.  

Gus Van Sant who previously directed a little movie called Good Will Hunting delivers his best film since the 1997 Oscar winner.  He paces the movie very well and mixes in a lot of actual news archive footage.  One scene in particular that stands out is a shot of Milk talking to police officers after a gay man is beaten in the streets.  The entire scene is shot as a reflection in a chrome whistle that lays on the ground.  Gay men in that era used to wear whistles to alert each other of harassing or potentially dangerous situations.  At the end of the scene, Milk picks up the whistle and we see him in front of the camera without a cut.  Van Sant, Danny Boyle and David Fincher gave three amazing turns in the director's chair this past year.  Equally as good as the directing was the casting in the movie.  At the end of the film you see video clips of the actual people who were portrayed by the actors in the movie.  Each one bears a striking resemblance to the actor that played them (especially Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch).  Spot-on casting like this adds to the overall authenticity of the film.  The only performance I found to be flawed was Diego Luna's portrayal of Jack Lira (Milk's lover during the second half of the movie).  Luna was just a little too annoying and I did not find myself investing any interest in that character.

I now hope that Penn takes home his second golden statue on Sunday for this role.  What makes his performance better than Rourke's is simple.  When I watched the Wrestler, I kept thinking to myself "that's Mickey Rourke on the screen".  During Milk there were frequent long stretches where I completely forgot Sean Penn was in the movie.  He really BECAME Harvey Milk and gave one of the best character actor performances in a long time.  Overall I really enjoyed this movie and it actually ranks very close to Slumdog Millionaire for me (behind Benjamin Button amongst Best Picture films).  I give the movie 4 out of 5 JRs and docked a half-JR rating for FAR too many scenes of guys kissing each other and making out.  I'm all for gay rights and letting each individual do what he or she pleases in society but I can only take so much man on man kissing in a movie.  This film makes Brokeback Mountain look tame by comparison. 

Stay tuned for my review of The Reader which we plan on seeing tomorrow night to round out my viewing of the five Best Picture nominees.   Just in time for the Oscars on Sunday night.


T. said...

I had every intention of dragging Rob to see Milk this afternoon, but from the sounds of it, I should probably see it on my own. Not sure if Rob can handle it. :-)

Jordan said...

If he closes his eyes at times he can make it through. I had to close mine from time to time. The story and quality of acting makes it easier to take.