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MILK, 2008
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MILK
Movie Review
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, Alison Pill, Victor Garber
Review by Eli Manning



SYNOPSIS:

The story of California's first openly gay elected official, Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated along with Mayor George Moscone by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White.

REVIEW:

First things first: Sean Penn delivers the best leading performance I've seen so far in 2008 (if any person can gauge such a thing) and I really, really like this film. It has all of the elements of what I feel makes a great film. It's entertaining, it's insightful, it's educational and most importantly, it hits you right at the core of your emotions and you just care about what's happening from the opening scene to the closing scene.

And you know there is a sad ending coming because the beginning of the film (and the film's lead synopsis) tells you even if you weren't aware of the real life events of Harvey Milk. But you forget that it's coming and/or wish it isn't coming because you begin to like Harvey Milk so much and know that he's a true hero.

The film follows the 8 year journey of Harvey Milk (played by Sean Penn), a openly gay man who become a San Francisco activist at age 42 and eventually earned an election win and became the first homosexual elected official in the United States of America.

This film has a lot going for it and you don't have to be gay to understand the emotional arcs in the story. Many of us feel like outsiders in life and/or feel angry about certain injustices in our current society. Harvey Milk is the true story of a man who at middle-age, decided to do something about what he was really feeling inside. Something many of us should also be doing.

Harvey Milk is a role model to all and that's why there is a movie made about him. If you really think about it, how people treat homosexuals is a tad silly and 100 years from now people will look back on this time and think how ignorant many of us were. Personally, I have been uncomfortable around homosexuals for a most of my life as I grew up in an environment that told me so. This is a movie that teaches me even more how silly and stupid I've really been for a long time. And that's why it's an important movie for all of us to see.

Of course the film has to entertain us and Milk does just that. History has proved that if you have a type-A leader as a main character who fights for what he/she believes in, then you have yourself a winning formula for a movie. People just like to watch and follow these types no matter if they are black, white, female, young, old or even gay.

This is an interesting biopic because the film starts at Harvey's rise and ends at the peak of his life as his murder happens. So really there isn't a whole lot of roller-coaster of emotions happening and it doesn't resort to a brief back story of his childhood where a key moment happens that defines his life -- like most biopic films do. We learn who Harvey is at age 40 to 48 and that's all we really need to know about it.

Director Gus Van Sant is just interested in telling the story of the dramas of Harvey Milk's rise to public office. He starts on a street corner preaching his ideals and builds his political momentum from block to block while finding the key people to help him (and them) move up in the world. Which makes the ending even more painful because you can see that his group was up to something and losing Harvey, the born leader, hurt so much. Hard to build something special without that leader.

Josh Brolin plays Dan White, the eventual murderer of Harvey. This will probably be the most underrated role of 2008 as this is really a thankless role for any actor to play. The character enters the film halfway through and really doesn't get a scene to himself. It's as underwritten an antagonist role I've seen in awhile but Brolin brings this character to life with the limited time he has. You must relate and care for this man in order to the conclusion to really work and he does this.

If there was ever a time for the Academy to give a Supporting Actor nomination to someone, it would be Brolin's performance.

This is Sean Penn's film all the way though. He's in every scene and is also the focal point of every scene. Yes, there's a great slate of supporting characters, but Harvey Milk is the key figure in every single moment.

In the second scene of the film Harvey meets the love of his life Scott (James Franco) in a New York City subway. Van Sant sets up the film with this scene by giving Sean Penn all of the screen as Franco is seen in the corner giving into Milk's obvious charm. It's then that you know that Gus Van Sant will let Sean Penn make or break this film. And make it Penn certainly does.

Bottomline, this is a great film. A must see for everyone.

4 stars out of 4!

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