Film | Gus van Sant | Harvey Milk | News | Sean Penn

I Saw Gus van Sant's Milk Last Night


I had the chance to see Milk last night. I'm not going to review it, but here are a few thoughts. I didn't think anything could live up to the 1984 documentary The Times of Harvey Milk but this does. It's a powerful, classy, elegant film.

James Franco and Diego Luna, who both act as romantic foils to Penn's Milk, are funny, authentic, and completely believable. Many deliver what I'd consider Oscar-worthy acting nods. Sean Penn will get a Best Actor nomination. Emile Hirsch lingers with me in his role as activist Cleve Jones.

Gus van Sant has done Harvey Milk's story justice, and then some. His mixture of real vintage footage and fictional footage is seamless and brilliant.

The timing of this movie with what's happening right now in California is amazing, the parallels uncanny. Thirty years later we are still facing much of the same discrimination that Milk fought against. Many people ask, could the release of this movie have had an effect on the passage of Proposition 8? I don't believe it would have, simply because we live in a reactionary society.

People are more likely to take action as a result of something happening (such as Prop 8 passing) rather than as a strategy to plan against it. That is why we see what is happening now all around California. I do believe that what is going on right now will give the movie a much more powerful resonance to those who go see it and also increase its chances for success come awards season.

Here's a new short clip from the film that was just released, AFTER THE JUMP...

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  1. I wish we had a Harvey Milk now.

    Posted by: Jeff NYC | Nov 7, 2008 8:34:31 AM

  2. Gay is the new Black

    Posted by: chadnnocal | Nov 7, 2008 9:02:26 AM

  3. I'm interviewing Gus -- and the babe-a-licious James Franco -- tomorrow, Andy. Having seen the film are there any specific questions you'd like me to ask?

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Nov 7, 2008 9:28:17 AM

  4. Andy I also screened the Film in Boston this week - and i was totally taken aback by Sean's acting - definitely Best Actor Award - and the movie was outstanding in its historical approach to the times of Harvey Milk - what i found most profound was how little time he actually served in his capacity of City Supervisor juxtaposed to the time he spent working for his seat.... And i had forgotten about the " defense " Dan Whites' attorneys used!!!! I also felt James Franco did an outstanding job as Harvey's Boyfriend - though even for NYC i found their first meeting to be a tad over the top...... I do understand that it will be released at Christmas which does give GLBT Americans something to watch during the holidays and in the midst of dozens of "Holiday Movies"...... Definitely plan to see this! I do agree we need a Harvey Milk for these times and i do not see one on the horizon...

    Posted by: alex in boston | Nov 7, 2008 9:39:26 AM

  5. Milk starts showing December 5th in Toronto.

    Posted by: A.J. | Nov 7, 2008 9:45:59 AM

  6. I also saw the film yesterday, and given the current political climate after the passage of Prop 8, I think the takeaway is particularly timely and important: Keep fighting. And when you loose, fight harder.

    Posted by: DCposter | Nov 7, 2008 9:48:27 AM

  7. David Poland over at the Hot Blog (and others) are wondering why Focus didn't try and release this film BEFORE November 4th, as it would have been star-worthy enough for people who voted against Prop 8 to see it and maybe rethink their position.

    Posted by: AED | Nov 7, 2008 10:41:00 AM

  8. All true! As a journalist are you not concerned that this film would have done MORE good if it had been released prior to the election? With days of rage about Prop 8, the mittens about this film are unbelievable...and while Hollywood Reporter does review this film, you hands, your typing hands are tied from an embargo? Surely, this film would have done good providing a catalyst to action regarding Prop 8. I rather think its a shame, for whatever reason that this didn't happen.

    Posted by: Man | Nov 7, 2008 12:37:44 PM

  9. Is there any chance this film will be shown outside of NY, SF and LA?

    Posted by: anon | Nov 7, 2008 12:39:15 PM

  10. Furthermore
    Here are some thoughts on the film:
    The vintage films shown in the beginning of the film are amazing. What this film does is remind us just how far we have come from police raids on gay bars, and how secretive it was to be homosexual in the 50s.
    Sean Penn is stunning as Harvey Milk.
    Diego Luna's Jack Lira is a caricature. And herein lies the real problem with Milk: there is little emotional connection other than the historical events. This true of the film as a whole, in the end, you are quite shocked by the murder but it lacks huge, 5 hanky emotion. Had this film's focus been a love story, especially the relationship between Milk and Scott Smith, the ending would have been devastating. The same could be said of Jack Lira-shocking but not particularly emotional.
    The street riot scenes are too long. We get it. Had Van Sant exchanged fifteen minutes of street for the emotional side of Harvey Milk, the movie would have far greater impact. And finally, with the exception of the ending of this film, it really lacks directorial style. It is so straight-forward, so without nuance cinematically, that I had ask, “what is Gus Van Sant known for?”
    Van Sant did a good job, I wish it had been great.

    Posted by: Man | Nov 7, 2008 1:13:24 PM

  11. Re "gay is the new black":

    "The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated."
    -- Bayard Rustin , organizer of the 1963 March on Washington

    Posted by: Chris Lombardi | Nov 7, 2008 3:21:06 PM

  12. Why is it Holywood's job to incite anger in the LGBT community. Shouldn't we know our own history? We have a large percentage of our coommunity more concerned about what to wear to the next circuit party and how they are going to pay for the full boat ticket than equal rights. LGBT rights only become an issue when they realize that the folks they were depending on to "take care of it" couldn't pull it off. The horror!

    Posted by: SS | Nov 7, 2008 3:58:01 PM

  13. to Chris L --

    that is the truth -- I knew a straight lady once who said -- the gays are the litmus test -- if a politician knows how to vote on gay and lesbian issues --they will know how to vote on most other issues.

    She called us the litmus test and it's truer now than before Nov 4.

    Posted by: David B. | Nov 7, 2008 5:22:58 PM

  14. to Chris L --

    that is the truth -- I knew a straight lady once who said -- the gays are the litmus test -- if a politician knows how to vote on gay and lesbian issues --they will know how to vote on most other issues.

    She called us the litmus test and it's truer now than before Nov 4.

    Posted by: David B. | Nov 7, 2008 5:24:52 PM

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