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MILK

Director: GUS VAN SANT

U.S.A. • 2008 • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 35MM • 128 MIN


AS THE FIRST OPENLY GAY POLITICIAN ELECTED TO OFFICE IN THE U.S. AND AN EQUALLY PROMINENT VICTIM OF AN ASSASSINATION, THE STORY OF HARVEY MILK IS BOTH A CELEBRATION AND A CAUTION, BOTH ELEMENTS EXPERTLY ENCAPSULATED IN GUS VAN SANT’S CHEERING YET MINDFUL BIOPIC.
Sean Penn can book his seat for the Oscars already, since his central performance goes beyond mere imitation and connects to the essential sense of fairness under the law which remained the prime motivating force for the one-time Wall Street functionary who moved to San Francisco to became a canny political operator on a gay rights platform. Skilfully mapping out the Bay City’s ’70s transformation into America’s pink capital, and drawing on the extraordinary taped testimony Milk recorded precisely because he feared an assassin’s bullet, the film makes the point that the social changes which brought Milk into power also left others alienated and confused. Milk’s eventual nemesis, fellow councillor Jack White (brilliantly played by Josh Brolin), for instance, represented a conservative Irish Catholic enclave, but the suggestion here is that his psychosis was sparked by his own repressed homosexuality.
Boasting more of a buzzy sense of mischief than many a weighty biopic, thanks in part to immensely likeable performances from the likes of Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and James Franco as Milk’s supporters and lovers, there’s still a defiantly unapologetic sense here that this is a movie that matters. A proud advocacy of equal rights notwithstanding, it’s not just about weighty social issues. With its involving cast of characters and cumulative emotional impact, this one’s got heart. — Trevor Johnston.

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