Fast becoming a Tuesday night ritual (previously held by the consistently satisfying 2-for-1 pizza deal at the local pizza shop), I took some time to head to the movie theater to watch one of the major Oscar contenders this season. Last night’s Milk is unquestionably a major contender this season for many reasons. While I’ll try not to say everything that’s already been said (and also try not to turn my part in this blog into solely that of a movie critic), I can’t help but echo a good deal of the praise that has been thrown its way.
The most obvious and apparent strength of the film is the inspired performances by the half fresh-faced, half-seasoned, and half-stoner movie legend cast. Yes, that’s three halves; I’m an artist, not a god dang mathematician. The (kind-of) ensemble cast rose to the level of Penn’s performance. A movie like this often suffers when a supporting cast doesn’t do this with such a powerful character and powerful actor portraying him/her. The sheer audacity of James Franco’s role in this film given his history of typically light fare is enough to warrant a firm, heterosexual pat on the back. I just remembered that Josh Brolin was in the film. Let me reiterate that: I just remembered that JOSH BROLIN was in the film. How’s that for a stacked acting roster?
The scope of Milk was much larger, but not necessarily more heavy, than your average GVS film. Some of his more recent work has been characterized by long, floating camera movements and a silence that defines moments in time where the weight of the world is enough to drown out the need for dialogue. I’m thinking most specifically about Elephant and Last Days. There were simply more people on screen at any given moment in Milk and in this way (along with others), it was a much bigger film. The use of file footage blended with new, fictional footage, blended with fictional footage treated as file footage was seamless and enhanced the experience tremendously by closing the gaps in time and space for viewers today. In this way, I think the film (consciously or not) achieved a level of universality of time and place where many biopics fall short.
Being a California resident and having seen the question of equal rights for the LGBT community hang in limbo, even in my short time since moving here, Milk couldn’t have been more telling than to be released today in 2008. Many critically acclaimed biopics, for example Ray or Walk the Line, have always presented themselves as a means of understanding our past: a retrospective biography film that hopes to tell the story of someone who has passed through our world and left an indelible mark on our history. Milk transcended this. The issues at hand for Harvey Milk in the 1970s are still issues at hand today, as ludicrous and pathetic as it is to have to write it.
It was difficult not to relate the world of 1970s San Francisco and Milk’s influence on countless individuals across the United States. But whereas the 1970s had Harvey Milk, the bittersweet realization that we may not have someone so vocal and proud today is a heavy burden to leave with. Despite it all, the message in Milk was executed brilliantly to mirror that of the late, great man himself: you gotta give ’em hope. With the current state of things today in this country of ours, how can you not see the power in those words? How can you not feel the least bit of hope (for lack of a better word) that if someone who came before us had the strength to fight for what was right, surely we can as well.