Gus Van Sant is one of the most interesting directors in Hollywood. I don’t mean that in necessarily a good way. He’s done many films I thought were okay. He’s done a few films I’ve loved. He did one movie that’s on my list of 20 worst movies ever made – Last Days (and I’m a Nirvana fan). He’s done another movie that was a remake; a scene-for-scene remake of Psycho, with a masturbation scene thrown in and Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. Huh?
Now he tackles a movie about Harvey Milk. I’m not so sure we needed that movie, as years ago we got an Oscar winning documentary called The Times of Harvey Milk. So, Van Sant gives us this movie and makes it rather dull. This film had the same problem Brokeback Mountain had. It just wasn’t very romantic.
Milk is over two hours long, and we watch him lounging around with a lover he met in the subway in New York, and they do nothing remotely interesting. I have what would’ve been the perfect solution to that. It should’ve been called White/Milk. Or Milk and Twinkies. It could’ve jumped back and forth between Harvey Milk and his home and political life, and Dan White (Josh Brolin), the guy that kills him. White had a rather colorful life. He was a firefighter for years, and a police officer. How many people had both those jobs? Then when they work together, the movie could’ve been exactly the way Van Sant had it happen here.
Milk was the first openly gay elected politician. He’s played well by Sean Penn, and it cast the actor so great in Penn’s Into the Wild last year – Emile Hirsch. Diego Luna and James Franco are also strong in the cast.
The timing for this movie works, as everyone was surprised California passed Proposition 8.
Milk sells insurance in Long Island and is bored with his life. He moves to San Francisco, which is perfectly recreated. They open a camera shop on Castro Street, where Milk’s campaign starts to join the Board of Supervisors. It takes a few attempts before he makes it to City Hall. He helps defeat Prop 6, which would’ve made it illegal for gays to become teachers. It’s crazy to think that in this day and age we still have that debate with gays as scout leaders in the Boy Scouts.
A lot of what was shown in this movie just isn’t that captivating. Sean Penn is arguably the best actor of our generation, and he’s great in the role. Yet watching him talk his lover down from a depression that could be suicidal, or yell into a bullhorn at a rally – just doesn’t get me motivated. How can somebody be yelling into a bullhorn and not have your full attention?
One of the most interesting things in the movie was seeing that this was the case my journalism teacher told us about in 9th grade. It was the famous “Twinkie defense.”
Dan White had killed Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, and in court it was argued he had been addicted to Twinkies and other junk food. That’s what caused this craziness. The jury bought it, and he only had to serve five years in jail. He eventually killed himself, which again makes me state – have a movie about both these interesting characters, and let us see how they got to where they were working together.
There were enough interesting elements and strong enough cast that I’m giving this a C-.