Milk * * * *

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Director: Gus Van Sant.
Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black.
Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Denis O’Hare, Victor Garver, Alison Pill, Joseph Cross, Stephen Spinella, Lucas Grabeel, Brandon Boyce, Kelvin Yu, Jeff Koons.

When he’s not making ‘arthouse’ cinema or experimenting with his medium, director Gus Vant Sant is very capable of delivering well structured dramatic pieces. “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Good Will Hunting” are notable ones. This is another.

In America in the 1970’s, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) was an openly gay man who became a pioneer for gay rights and equality. When he was finally elected an official, he changed both laws and perceptions throughout San Francisco and the world.

The rise and fall of Harvey Milk is an affecting and uplifting story skillfully told by Gus Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Seemlessly intercut with old news footage, the historical significance of Milk’s story is all the more believable and a marvellous device that adds to the dramatic weight. The life and impact that Milk had on society was a powerful one and Sean Penn’s intimate portrayal of him is very fitting. Penn has always been a superb actor with several blistering performances throughout his career. My personal favourites being “Dead Man Walking”, “Carlito’s Way”, and his Oscar winning turn in “Mystic River”. This is another superb delivery garnering him his second best actor Oscar. His effeminate mannerisms and gentle yet forceful nature perfectly capture Harvey Milk. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed that Mickey Rourke didn’t win the best actor award in 2009 for “The Wrestler” but there’s no denying that Penn was a worthy winner. This is a film that is still relevant today. In 1978, Milk was campaigning against ‘Proposition 6’ which was a conservative initiative to prevent any gays or lesbians from teaching in California’s public schools, so as not to ‘corrupt’ the minds of the young. When this film was released in 2008, ‘Proposition 8’ was passed which prevented the right of gay couples to marry. Only marriage between a man and a woman is recognised in California. The events of this film may have happened 30 years ago but the inequality is still the same.
If Milk were alive today, he’d still be campaigning and this is a poignant portrait of the man and his understanding of social injustice.

A wonderful film anchored by a wonderful central performance.

Mark Walker

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