Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, Emile Hirsch
The Buzz: Nominated in Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Costume Design and Best Original Score categories
The Run: Won SAG Award for Best Actor
Sean Penn is one of the best actors around. No other actor, save DDL, has been so prolific and so perfect. Every gesture, move and expression that he presents is an indication that the academy has to more than make it up for their gross overlooking of his directorial film Into The Wild (2007). And Sean Penn is the only thing in Milk that actually lives up to all that hype.
Milk depicts the last eight years of Harvey Milk, America’s first “openly gay” statesman. This is a clever decision by Van Sant to spare us of the emotional torture and discrimination that Harvey might have faced in his teens and twenties. He makes the film event driven instead of character driven (which the subject matter might have readily prompted to). He starts off well utilizing newsreels to depict the political drama (without further unnecessary dramatization like Oliver Stone or now, Ron Howard) and shooting only the process of revolution using the most trivial of conversations taking place inside petty buildings. He never highlights Penn’s character and treats him as any other friendly neighbourhood hero. But all is consistent only till the half way. Van Sant is tempted to stage the political rising and breaks out into the open (may be that is the bloody point, but I don’t buy it). Newsreels take a back seat and Van Sant goes Hollywood. The underdog victory, the gruesome and sympathetic murder, the cut to the past, the consequence – we’ve all seen that before. All that one takes back is Penn’s wonderful portrayal of Harvey Milk – a person much more inspiring than the film.
Gus Van Sant has always been an enigma to me. I do not know what people saw in his earlier Palm D’Or winner Elephant (2003) and I do not understand what the hype around Milk is all about. Sean Penn’s masterful performance coupled with Obama’s dream run was perhaps the catalyst required to make emotions soar for the American audience. For me, it remains one of the most disappointing films of the year.