Brainflow Feed

That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, they revolve mostly around films.)

Milk

Sunday, December 14th, 2008 8:23 pm—Film

Milk (USA 2008, Biography/Drama), Writer: Dustin Lance Black; Director: Gus Van Sant

Director Gus Van Sant’s latest film documents the life and death of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), California’s first openly gay elected official. We meet him as a closeted New York accountant in 1970, and follow him through to his finals days as San Francisco Supervisor—a title that ultimately gets him assassinated in 1978.

Milk offers a fantastic biopic that enlists archival footage to set the scene for the anti-gay sentiments and burgeoning gay pride movement of the seventies. The film also relies on an enthralling performance by Penn to pull you into the story. Critics are hailing this as his best performance to date. I don’t know if I can overlook his outstanding turn as convicted murderer Matthew Poncelet in Dead Man Walking, but he’s at least as good in Milk, a movie that provides him with yet another opportunity to showcase his phenomenal range.

One of the film’s greatest strengths—as a film that should go a long way toward bringing homosexuality to the forefront of mainstream cinema—is how unabashedly the men’s physical intimacy is displayed. You can practically see the force pulling Milk and his lover Scott Smith (James Franco) together when they lean in to kiss. Penn throws himself whole-heartedly into these scenes, bringing such passion to them that you forget how good he was at playing the strongly heterosexual alpha-male in Mystic River. This commitment to showing gays as they really interact puts a movie like Philadelphia—whose gay couple never so much as shares a kiss—to shame for having shied away from really throwing open the door society has shut on homosexuality.

My only criticism of the film is that it fails to pack any real emotional punch. As Penn plays him, Milk seems surprisingly unfazed by some of the darker things he faces in the eight years that play out during the movie. And Van Sant definitely doesn’t linger on these moments. Maybe this was done to underscore what Milk himself repeats throughout the film: It’s not about a man; it’s about a movement. Whatever the reason, it left me feeling a little empty. Milk was always engaging, often funny and exciting, but never heart wrenching.

Still, that doesn’t cause me to hesitate at all before recommending the film. Make a point of seeing it. The timing is unsettlingly, and wonderfully, apropos given the recent passing of Proposition 8 in California.

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