Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Gus Van Sant's 'Milk' a great portrait of leadership...

Since seeing Gus Van Sant's Milk last week, I've been contemplating what to write about this great film that hasn't already been said? What did I like about it most?

There's Sean Penn's uncanny performance, he's still at the top of his game. There's Van Sant's subtle touch perfect for this vital history lesson in queer liberation. There's Dustin Lance Black's screenplay that so thoroughly explores Harvey Milk's unique journey from New York closet case to community leader. There's the meticulous attention to detail that makes it inspiring and unforgettable.

Harvey Milk (pictured in the suit) was the first openly gay man to be elected to major office in the United States (in 1978 as a local supervisor (like a district councillor) in San Francisco.) Milk chronicles Harvey's growth from ordinary man to icon.

The supporting turns are all wonderful. James Franco is mesmerizing, embodying the almost perfect partner that got away. Emile Hirsch is an energetic work of art in this flick. I won't soon forget his "Out of the bars, into the streets!" chants, nor his smooching scene with fellow cutie Joseph Cross. I agree with Susan Cole there weren't enough lesbian characters in this flick, but it's a minor flaw amid the great accomplishments.

This is a story about a community desperately in need of a strong voice to lead it, and how one man's greatness was tragically cut short because of a cold-blooded murderer's inability to cope with the world around him. Josh Brolin captures the disturbing contradictions of his character, Dan White. What an enigma! The climactic scene when White walks Milk into his office to shoot him dead makes clear that White was guilty of first degree murder, not the disgustingly lenient conviction for voluntary manslaughter.

The film does a beautiful job showing how one man's inspirational hope and unique political skills could push for greater gay acceptance. The climate against homosexuals in the 1970s, even in San Francisco, was clearly hostile. The fight over Proposition 6 in 1978, which would've banned gay teachers, shows how important Milk's strategy truly was. Milk advocated that all gay people "come out" of the closet to put a human face on the issue for their straight friends, family and neighbours.

It's sad that our community lost Harvey Milk so early. Sean Penn is probably right that Milk, had he lived, would've fought and raised greater awareness about AIDS much sooner due to his high profile and energy.

In the end, Milk is a portrait of an ordinary man finding it within himself to become the leader he and his community need him to be.

Every gay man (and as many lesbians, bisexuals and heterosexuals, etc. as possible) should see this movie.

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