Saturday, January 24, 2009

Movie Review: "Milk" Is Lukewarm

Written by Clarence Yu

Milk tells the real-life story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man ever elected to public office. Based on actual events, the premise of the movie seems inspiring: the struggle of a man representing a hated, minority community who overcomes all obstacles to win representation in government.

Looks can be deceiving, however. The movie's running time just doesn't give enough to build on Harvey Milk's character, aptly portrayed by Sean Penn in a fine performance.

The film, directed by Gus Van Sant, covers Milk's life from 1970 to 1978, the time in which he begins his rapid ascent from a down and out, 40-year-old insurance executive to his final years as a gay/civil rights activist and eventually, an elected public official, serving as a City Supervisor of San Francisco.

While the film enlightens viewers on the career of Harvey Milk, it lacks a certain sort of dynamic tension needed to justify the climax; there are scenes that show a promise of build-up, but then it just veers off into various sub-plots that tend to irritate rather than to punctuate. You just don't get that feeling of victory as the movie ends.

What is good about Milk is its feel for the time and the superb acting by Penn, James Franco, and Josh Brolin. You don't expect an actor like Penn to take on a role like this, so apart from his superb performance, it is a brave one as well. He is consistently sweet and amiable throughout without any of the fits of rage or anger that characterize his previous work. Josh Brolin proves he has the acting mettle to match Penn as he takes on the pivotal role of Dan White. Brolin captures the frustration and mild insanity that the role demands.

With all the hype surrounding Milk, many will expect it to be cheesy in a good way, but get set for a mild disappointment. The film is certainly entertaining, but the scenes could have been woven tighter in a way that would have made the actors' performances really shine. The movie tells the story of an extraordinary man, but there is nothing extraordinary in its telling.

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