His name is Gus Van Sant, and he’s here to recruit you. Van Sant seems to be an auteur of the best kind: doing things only because it pleases him. Don’t believe this? Watch Gerry. While all his movies provide something interesting, his forays into mainstream narratives usually yield the greatest rewards. Milk falls into this category and will please everyone willing to give it a chance.
Milk follows the true life story of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay man to be elected to major public office. It follows him from his days at an insurance company in New York where he meets the love of his life Scott (an perfectly even, warm and funny performance by James Franco). The two move to San Francisco, seeking a sort of asylum among other semi-closeted gays during a time when you could legally be fired, or kicked out of your apartment for being a homosexual. The film then focuses on his heroic campaign efforts finally resulting in a win, when Milk is elected as one of San Francisco’s City Supervisors.
This is the best ensemble cast of the year, without a doubt. Emile Hirsh, Josh Brolin (who plays the slightly homophobic fellow Supervisor Dan White), Diego Luna, Alison Pill, they all play their roles pitch perfectly. Penn is endearing and inspiring in his portrayal of this fallen American hero. The script deserves special recognition as well, penned by Dustin Lance Black (Big Love), as it brings a sense of realism often glossed over in political dramas.
The most credit however, goes to Van Sant who handled this piece remarkably well. If the Academy doesn’t throw him a bone with a nomination nod, I’m going to do something drastic. I didn’t want the movie to end, it was that good. A film celebrating this American hero and the fight for civil rights which he led, comes at a painfully relevant time, and perhaps it’ll bring a little more attention and humanity to the current unstable political atmosphere surround gay issues (get your shit together California). This is Van Sant’s best film to date, and without a doubt, one of the years best ten.