Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008) February 7, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Biopic, Hollywood, Queer.
Directed by Gus Van Sant
Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Josh Brolin
The bullet did not destroy every closet door but it did manage to shake the rickety foundations of a stifling convention. Like every great man, Harvey Milk died when almost all his aspirations were falling into place, when he was just beginning to fulfill the hopes of every gay man in San Francisco, and when every little step he made for the movement became a huge leap to every homosexual all across America. Gus Van Sant details the travails of the last few years of his life, the time when Milk felt he hasn’t done anything yet that he could be proud of, by giving us a vignette of brimming happiness, a drop of vitriol that burns less because it is diluted with too much water, the effect stops when we feel the prickling heat. The mixture of archival footage, interviews, commercials, and screen texts with the actual narrative works. The overwhelming layers of Milk’s remaining years reveal that the film intends not only to punctuate his influence and significant social reform, but also to bookmark a turning point in history when homophobia is militantly defied as a religion. Van Sant’s competence is unquestionable; he has given Milk’s life a combination of entertaining flair and upright seriousness that characterize his advocacy. But the story almost kills me with too much focus, that while it has touched me pensively, leading to a lot of disorganized thoughts on whether a free society is ever possible, it fails to arrest me completely. Milk’s political struggle and personal life seem not to connect. Like threads weaved in different clothes, they form a recognizable yet distant attachment to their whole. The Academy supposes a biopic of a rebellious icon qualifies for eternal recognition – – social responsibility? moral compensation? alleviation of guilt? – – but compared with Van Sant’s other films, Milk only feels like an exercise, a safe exercise that makes up for its timeliness and Penn’s ubiquitously gay nuances.