Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Milk will recruit you

Even though Sean Penn was the only actor to win for his role in Milk, the entire cast was what made the movie. The expert handling of the supporting actors turned Dustin Lance Black's screenplay into a touching and inspirational story for the big screen.

The story is straightforward. Harvey Milk is a middle-aged homosexual who is still in the closet when he meets Scott Smith (James Franco, Spider-man). The two leave New York and travel to San Francisco. Dismayed by how homosexuals are being treated (bullied and beaten by police and unable to meet in public), Harvey runs for city supervisor three times before winning in 1977.

Black's screenplay unravels the story in a unique way. The film uses real footage from San Francisco at the time Harvey was running for office. These clips show gay men being corralled and piled into the back of police vans. Also, the movie is mostly told in flashbacks. At the beginning Harvey is speaking into a tape recorder, recounting his journey from New York and his election to office as the first openly gay elected official. However, he is foreshadowing his own death: the purpose of the tape is in the event he is assassinated.

The movie would not be the Oscar-worthy film it is if not for the cast. Penn, a usually dark and brooding actor, takes a turn as the smiling and flamboyant Harvey. However, he isn't the only shining star. All of the people involved in the campaign are fully fleshed characters brought to life by the ministrations of the cast.

Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch, Into the Wild) is initially lost to the cause, but eventually joins the campaign as one of the most outspoken supporters. He becomes Harvey's righthand man and is there through thick and thin when the losses and continuing campaigns take a toll on Harvey's relationship with Scott. After Scott, Harvey meets Jack Lira (Diego Luna, The Terminal), a clingy, dependent, disturbed individual who often causes trouble for Harvey. However, Luna encompasses the characters flaws and makes the audience invest in him as Harvey is invested in Jack.

Amidst the stellar cast is one other standout: Josh Brolin (No Country for Old Men). As city superviser Dan White, Brolin plays opposite Penn as the upstanding, family man. The chemistry between the two actors is undeniable. Harvey finds himself gravitating toward Dan because he believes Dan is a closet homosexual, as Harvey once was. Dan also tries to keep a working relationship with Harvey, but it falls apart. One of the best scenes is when Dan, drunk and confused, shows up at Harvey's birthday party. It is a revealing look at the characters and the relationship between the two city supervisors who, despite trying, just can't seem to work together.

I recommend seeing Milk. It is an enlightening look at the struggles and triumphs the gay community has gone through. The characters' stories will touch anyone's heart and the actors' talent makes it possible.

Milk was released on DVD on March 10, 2009. It includes features that look further into the movement. Harvey Milk's closest friends speak about him in one feature, key figures from Harvey's life reflect the many marches that took place in search for equality, and cast and crew share their stories from making the movie.

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