james debate
james debate

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Directed by Gus Van Sant
Written by Dustin Lance Black
Starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin
Release date(s) 26th November 2008
Running time 128 minutes

harvey milk Film

In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. Scoring a massive victory for gay rights, Milk became one of the icons of civil rights, up until his assassination in 1978. This is the film about his short lived political career.

This film, directed by Gus Van Sant, who you may know as the director of Good Will Hunting and Elephant, tells the political story of Harvey Milk and the legacy he left after he was killed, so powerful was the movement he inspired.

Van Sant's direction is typically accomplished, and Brolin gives a memorably layered performance as Dan White, but it is without a doubt Sean Penn who steals the show here, with a performance that will without any doubt earn at least a nomination for the oscar for best actor.

Penn doesn't try to present the eponymous Milk as a hero of any real sort, but as a real person, with good qualities and bad qualities, who just stood up at the right time for what he believed in. The heartfelt credibility Penn brings to this role is particularly impressive for such a difficult character. An actor trying to play such a liberally gay man without turning into a cartoon character is not easy, but Penn pulls it off with aplomb and manages to play the part with a certain strength and determination that suits the character perfectly.

It's a film that's hard to criticize, but it's still not the best film of recent times. It doesn't really do anything wrong, but at the same time, there have been recent films done with more style and panache, there have been recent films that hit harder emotionally and there have been films that are more exciting, more fun. So while this is an excellent piece of cinema that ticks all the boxes, it is perhaps a little too much so, and doesn't really push the envelope in any sense.

A milestone moment in American political history has translated into an impressive piece of cinema, and one that is sure to be appreciated in some form at the academy awards. This is certainly one of the highlights of this recent season of films, even if it perhaps doesn't hit home as hard as some other recent films.

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