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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Organic - Milk - Movie Review

I was afraid I was going to force myself to like Milk because it's a movie about the gay movement and my own personal connection to the issues at hand, whether it was actually a good movie or not.

Luckily, the movie Milk is a good movie. In fact, it's quite a great movie with some superb acting and cinematography and while I think it stops short of being the best movie of the year, it thankfully transcends most Hollywood biopics by avoiding the traditional glossy presentation that usually dilutes these biographical retellings. Gus Van Sant's direction is taught and inventive, and even though the history lesson is quite straight forward (no pun intended), the film feels organic and fresh.

There are glimpses of warmth amongst the humane reenactment but the movie works superbly because Sean Penn fully inhabits Harvey Milk, the first gay person elected to political office in the United States and I forgot I was watching Sean Penn the actor (one that I've never really cared for before). The cast is mostly excellent with some hot young actors (my High School Musical fave Lucas Grabeel, the always surprisingly good Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), one to watch for Joseph Cross (Running with Scissors), a solid James Franco (Spider-man), the always terrific Allison Pill (Dan in Real Life)) being surrounded by great character/theatre actors Victor Garber (Eli Stone, Alias), Denis O'Hare (Brothers & Sisters, Charlie Wilson's War) and Stephen Spinella (24, Spring Awakening).

Josh Brolin makes a fascinating Dan White that makes me want to learn more about his situation (though I'm glad the movie focuses on Milk and not the impending trial after his death).

My criticism is that while I enjoyed seeing the normal relationship Milk and first boyfriend Scott Smith (Franco) have, his subsequent one with Jack, even while real, seems like some contrived plotline to add drama to Milk's life. I like the warts and all telling and I know Jack annoyed the heck out of Milk's staff, but he was kind of irritating on film as well and Diego Luna's performance, with his huge hair, seemed out of place somehow.

I also usually like Danny Elfman scores but I thought this one sometimes felt a little overwrought, ready to cue the pulling of heartstrings. It seemed a little overdramatic and the use of Tosca already gets that point across.

Still, I got a little choked up during the final scene with the candlelight vigil parade as Pill's Anne Kronenberg and Franco's Smith tear up.

I could probably go on and on about the issues the movie raises, the parallel's with the current fight against Prop 8 in California and Van Sant's interesting direction but at it's heart, the movie is a needed story to be told and it is told extremely well.

Milk = A- or 9/10

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