Like most history-rich films pertinent to our times, we could only wish they’d been released earlier. This rings true about ‘Milk”mdash;the new Gus Van Sant-directed biopic about Harvey Milk and the gay rights movement expanding from the Castro District’mdash;and the recent firestorm over Proposition 8. Had this been released before autumn, we may be living in a discriminatory-free California.
The power to influence plays a major character, but having ‘power,’ as described by Sean Penn’s character (the first openly gay politico elected to office), is not the main objective.
‘It’s not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power,’ says Milk (Sean Penn) in a tape recording shortly before his death. ‘It’s about the us’s out there.’
Self-proclaimed as the ‘Mayor of Castro Street’ in San Francisco, Penn plays the aggressive populist that becomes the booming voice of the gay rights movement. He begins by opening a camera shop with boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco), and rallying gays to the area, eventually gaining support and popularity from all sides when rallying his forces to boycott Coors from San Francisco bars.
The film chronicles Milk’s political ascension from 1970 ‘- 1978, and is strung together with traditional narration and a melodramatic structure of Oscar-caliber performances from Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Diego Luna (‘Y Tu Mam’aacute; Tambi’eacute;n’).
‘Things have changed, but they haven’t changed,’ Brolin said during an interview in regard to gay rights issues.
He went on to mention different religious organizations perception of gay marriage, ‘I’m upset that many communities don’t believe this is a civil rights issue. I think it is.’
After playing the fervent portrayal of Bush in Oliver Stone’s ‘W.,’ Brolin eerily electrifies the screen once more as newly elected supervisor Dan White. He befriends Milk, also an elected supervisor (achieved with inspiring tribulations), and the two begin lobbying for each other’s votes.
As their political careers take different turns, the relationship falters between White and Milk, inevitably reaching the film’s tragic (yet influential) conclusion.
Aside from the politic-heavy set ‘Milk’ invigorates, the movie marks Gus Van Sant’s fluent return to a more mainstream Hollywood after festival-circuit films like ‘Elephant’ and ‘Last Days.’
However, the gay community has never been justly portrayed till this film with every man-on-man kiss lusher than the last. When shooting on the set, Diego Luna said kissing Sean Penn was overrated. ‘It was too dry,’ he said laughing. ‘I guess he didn’t care too much about me.’
Luna went on to say that Sant confidently provides every actor with ‘the moment,’ making every performance that much stronger and flawless.
Inter-spliced within the film is actual footage of opponents to gay rights during the late ’70s battle, which lend a documentary feel to Milk’s story of internal struggle.
‘It’s not easy to walk into a room filled with straight people who might be antagonistic and in introduce yourself as the gay guy,’ said screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. ‘Harvey was great at it. But I wish it did happen more in the fight against Proposition Eight.’
‘Milk’ draws a straight line between respect and tolerance, and becomes an agent of change.
With the still continuing fight against Proposition Eight, the lack of a strong singular voice begs us to ask: ‘Where is Harvey Milk now?’
And as that old clich’eacute; goes, history is bound to repeat itself again. Let’s only hope ‘Milk’ can echo for a long time to come.
Dedicated to Dylan Miles, a harrowingly magnificent voice that could’ve influenced so many others. Bless you.