|Theatrical Movie Reviews Theatrical|
|Written by Todd Daugherty|
|Saturday, 31 January 2009|
Harvey Milk had moved to San Francisco to start a camera store with his partner, Scott Smith (played by James Franco). However, upon the day they first open for business, they get a crude reaction from a member of the surrounding business association, who does not approve of their openly gay lifestyle. This does not hinder Harvey in any way, and he immediately takes action by networking other gays in the community to band together as their own business association. His efforts gain the necessary support to make vendors in San Francisco's Castro District be welcoming of gay customers and culture, or face significant drops in potential business.
This wasn't enough for Harvey Milk though, he knew the only way for homosexuals to be truly equal in society, they had to have representatives in public office. The drive to become the first openly gay elected official consumes him, and other parts of his life suffer because of it. Separation from longtime partners, police brutality and even losing friends to suicide couldn't stop him. He even had to fight against other gay-friendly politicians in order to place gay rights in the spotlight he felt it needed.
The successful aspects of Milk extend beyond the film's plot. Milk blends old news footage from the time period along with new film in a way that makes you appreciate the intricate efforts put into the set, costume and photography. They all flowed seamlessly into the film to completely capture the culture, struggle and emotion of the movement.
Sean Penn puts on an astounding performance. He makes the viewer truly believe that Milk never gave up. His resilience was inspiring, and his attitude commanded admiration. The on-screen chemistry between Penn and Franco display an immediate connection that latches onto the viewer and either locks them into the film or makes them fidgety throughout. Penn's acting encourages and comforts any viewer that tries to find the heart and soul of what truly drives a character's actions in a film, and he most certainly deserves his recent Oscar nod for Best Actor.
Milk is the epitome of a statement film. It brings about a respect and acceptance to the gay community that other major homosexually-inspired films like Brokeback Mountain could not even fathom obtaining. Milk really shows the impact of “coming out of the closet.” A great deal of Milk's campaign to trump the infamous Prop 6 efforts, which proposed banning gays from teaching in public schools, was focused on gays coming out to their friends and family to help show society how connected everyone is to the gay community. “They'll vote for us 2 to 1 if they know one of us” was the maxim of the movement, and by observing the current conflicts of gay marriage bans across the country, you could say that the motto could still be just as potent today.
Aside from the impactful statements made by for film for the homosexual culture, the film does a superb job of separating sexuality from ambition, as well as the needs of a community over the persecution of a minority. Harvey Milk's ambitions were not completely motivated by the homosexual agenda. Milk was an advocate of civil rights and equality first, with gay rights brought to forefront as the focus of his efforts. He was a promoter of small businesses, an advocate of public programs and a financially conservative entrepreneur who wanted nothing but liberty and justice for all. You could sense that he didn't want to leave any group of people behind in the civil rights struggle, and his ideals were transparent enough to carry over to any and every persecuted minority looking for a fair shake in society.
On the down side, Milk starts out fast and immediately gets too fast. Penn and Franco's characters fall for each other and the next thing you know they're running away together to the Castro District. The character development was shaky in the New York scenes, and somewhat imposed the viewer to just accept love at first sight between a smooth talking Harvey and a-go-with-the-flow Scott in a subway station. Their chemistry together later flourishes into a powerful and effective portion of the film, but a more coherent transition from single in New York to freedom-fighting in San Francisco would have complemented the fluidity of the film much better.
Milk does an honorable justice to the gay rights battle that has endured throughout recent decades. In fact, Milk goes beyond the confines of gay rights, and reminds the viewer that the country's freedoms can't be made exclusive to any particular person, group or society, and should apply to each and every citizen without any hesitation caused by those who may not agree. Had Milk been released only a few weeks before the recent controversies over the state's Prop 8 gay marriage ban, you could definitely make the case that the vote and accompanying debate would have been a completely different ball game.