November 6, 2008

I love Gus van Sant, but I don’t think I’ve ever loved or been as impressed by any of his films as much as MILK, about assassinated gay activist Harvey Milk. It didn’t hurt that Sean Penn gives one of his most understated and brilliant performances of a career full of great performances. Or that Batboy nemesis James Franco has finally got himself a good role to exploit those talents (and those baby-boy good looks) of his. This is a film full of emotional resonance—for Milk as much as for the cause—and the depiction of the times is about as good as it gets. If there was a single wrong note, I couldn’t spot it. I came out the year Milk was assassinated and still remember the impact of his murder as well as the outrage and the surge of activist fervour that followed. It’s tellingly sad that Harvey Milk helped defeat Proposition 6 in 1978 (a bill that would have denied jobs to gay and lesbian teachers in California) and 30 years later the film opens with the success of Proposition 8, which denies the right for same sex marriage in the very same state. Have we gone that far backwards?

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