Monday, November 24, 2008

Whole Milk

If you want to see tour-de-force acting, look no further than Gus Van Sant's Milk, which features Sean Penn playing the title role of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the United States. The film couldn't really be much more timely, what with barriers being broken in national elections and with Proposition 8 passing in California earlier this month. But modern-day parallels aside, Milk recounts how one man seeking to stop injustices rose up and made a difference, becoming an icon and an inspiration for people everywhere. The movie's so good that Milk comes off as someone that gay and straight people alike can call a hero.

I don't know how much more you need to know about the plot given that Milk is about a real person and it's based on a true story. I'd rather tell you about the excellent cast, which besides Penn also includes James Franco as Milk's lover, Scott; Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones, Milk's protege; and Josh Brolin as Dan White, Milk's assassin. Franco especially gives a very moving and sympathetic performance, but all members of the cast are impressive. Van Sant tells the story in a tender and not heavy-handed way, making this a universal story and not a "gay" one or any other kind of marginalization. Milk is undoubtedly a sympathetic portrait of the man, and he comes off as one of us: someone who saw a wrong in his community and sought to make it right through sheer will and in the face of extreme prejudice. By the end of Milk, you'll not only be cheering for Milk's accomplishments (and Penn's performance), you'll be wondering why the gay community still has so far to go in terms of their quest for equal rights. I love this movie. It's one of the best of the year, and one that I hope has an impact beyond the box office. I'm giving Milk an A–.

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