Sunday, 8 February 2009


It’s been a whole three weeks since I last blogged a film review so I’ve got some catching up to do. In some ways, the wait has been beneficial in terms of writing these reviews, especially when it comes to Milk.

Had I written a review of Milk shortly after leaving the cinema, I would have been nothing but positive. But three weeks later, now that I have seen some much better films, I now realise that I have hardly thought about Milk. So I guess to quote Roy Walker: “It’s good but it’s not the one.”

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. It is Oscar season after all so the true stories were bound to come flooding out (The Changeling, Che, Frost/Nixon) and therefore, as with all true stories, we know how this one ends: in this case, assassination. So when Harvey says in the first five minutes, “I doubt I’ll live to see 50,” it has a real poignancy that pretty much drives the rest of the film.

It is a fairly fast-paced film, considering it is about politics, and at no point did I get bored. But then again, any rags-to-riches tale is enthralling. Who doesn’t like seeing the good guys go from struggling underdogs to triumphant winners? So if you strip off all of the political context then you are essentially left with Sister Act 2, Cool Runnings or even Ten Years Younger. We love seeing people triumph over time and Milk absolutely tells that tale.

Although, that is obviously over-simplifying the film.

Aside from the zero-to-hero narrative, we see a lot of insight into Milk’s character as inspirational leader, idealist and all-round charming man. Plus, the gay rights movement (and the shockingly small-minded people that they had to face) is shown to us in point-blank, grainy newsreel. Gus Van Sant realises that there is no need to act every scene out when all of this really happened and archive footage will do the job.

The young stars are all great (James Franco, Diego Luna, the very likable Emile Hirsch) but this is clearly Sean Penn’s film. It’s very strange how the majority of films in Oscar season usually focus solely on one character and how that character is nearly always played by an A-lister. Whatever happened to the ensemble? What ever happened to the rising star? (Incidentally, the answers are best illustrated by other films from this year's Oscar season so all is not lost.)

So... Sean Penn. If I’m honest, I have never particularly liked Sean Penn. He is an over-serious actor who chooses over-serious roles, not counting his turn in Friends. He is one of those political actors (who all gratefully got their comeuppance courtesy of Team America) who feel that there views should be heard on all political issues simply because they are good at pretending to be other people. He also used to go out wth Madonna, he beat up journalists and – most criminally – after Chris Rock made a joke about Jude Law appearing in every film (“Who the hell is Jude Law anyway?”) Sean Penn marched onto stage and haughtily replied: “Jude Law is one of our finest actors.”

Why so serious, Sean?

But, ranting aside, there is no denying that the man can act. He deserved his Oscar for Mystic River (and even more so because 21 Grams was released that year) and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the Academy favoured him again.

Despite Penn’s heartfelt performance, I really hope Josh Brolin isn’t overlooked. Playing the frustrated politician Dan White who ends up assassinating Milk couldn’t have been pleasant but he actually brings humanity to the guy. We even feel a certain empathy for the man who is struggling to support his family but has all of his thunder stolen by Milk.

Looking back, this review is nothing but positive and Milk is indeed a very good film.

But I hardly gave it a second thought the next day. Recently, some films have been so good that I wanted to see them again and others have left me thinking about them for a long time after. Milk did neither of those things.

Overall, Milk deserves the nominations it has received this year. But it certainly doesn’t deserve to top it’s competition.

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