Monday, February 23, 2009


Cast: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch
Director: Gus Van Sant
Runtime: 129 min.
Rating: ****
Genre: Drama, Biopic

        As a viewer it is tough to find a stake in Milk. Oh no, it doesn’t pertain to the question of orientation at all. I’m one of the great lovers of Brokeback Mountain, and part of that film’s appeal lay in the universality of its tale. Milk, on the other hand, is so particular about its world and issues that it gets locked within its little territory – the United States. I don’t cite that as a drawback but as an observation, and hopefully as a reason for my utter disinterest in the entire enterprise. I’m not sure the issue of gay rights is nearly a pressing matter in my life, and I believe my opinion of the film ought to be considered with some amount of circumspection as a result. I admit here, when I watched Milk I was still in the grasp of Rachel Getting Married. I still am. That sure does speak about me as a viewer, but I also believe that does speak a bit about the movie in question.
        This feels like a personal project to many, and for reasons I now realize, to screenwriter Dustin Lance Black the most. I look at his filmography on IMDb and I see that one of his earlier films The Journey of Jared Price, which is about a young man’s sexual awakening. I learn it from the Plot Summary here. If it has autobiographical elements I wouldn’t be surprised. There’s Gus Van Sant, one of our best directors, and I believe the spirit and beliefs of Harvey Milk do resonate within him too. It shows in the film and its dedicated adherence to vociferously fight for these rights, and as a viewer sitting here in India I can only admire. You see Milk is a film that is so conventionally and predictably well-made that there’s nothing I can really insightful I can say. If I would claim that the film seamlessly moves from authentic footage to the movie stock, and that the cinematography employs a palette that reminds me of the 70s (shades of orange and brown to the frame and partially soft images, i.e. sharpness toned down), if I would claim that the movie employs a involving and clear narrative, if I would claim that the performances are all top class, and if I would claim that Mr. Elfman’s score is moving, I would be stating facts and rhetoric more than citing my opinion. And that kind of exercise doesn’t excite me much. Milk is the exact kind of good film that I don’t find anything worthy to discuss with you, and while I write the review it feels more like a chore than the enjoyable and learning exercise it usually is.
        See, for what it strives, Milk hits all the right spots, and I understand that for those who are concerned about the political issue this film sure would mean a lot. It seeks change, and there’re a host of liberals stung by the bee that is the current U.S. President. Thus I seek other’s opinions and I see that even those who have loved the film do not have anything interesting to say other than to fall in paying homage to Mr. Milk. And some salute Mr. Penn, which again is a performance from the man. Every bit of skill that is implied by that word is to be found in his performance. It is his best work to date, no doubt, but ultimately it feels like work. I don’t know but Mr. Penn has always felt to me as an actor who makes me aware of his craft, and that basically boils down to difference in school of thought. But there’s no denying Mr. Penn disappears into Harvey Milk, and there’re moments where you wouldn’t be able to keep yourself from clapping at his immense talent. One of the most gifted actors of the generation. Unfortunately my definition of acting sounds a bit different. Never mind. I say again this is a super well made film. The performances, from Mr. Brolin, Mr. Franco are all superb. Only that I cannot make myself care enough. Milk is an American film.


srikanth said...

Exactly. every review that I read went on and on about Harvey Milk and not the film.

Sadanand Renapurkar said...

"Milk is the exact kind of good film that I don’t find anything worthy to discuss with you"

Is this because so much has been talked about it or it is too politically correct or it's very very specific about it's scope, so much so that all has been said in those 2 hrs. or so?

man in the iron mask said...

It is because there's nothing interesting to discuss. What do we talk about? Is there anything to be learnt? Is there anything insightful? I think it is politically correct to, but the thing is Van Sant is such a humanistic filmmaker his correctness feels natural.

Archita said...

Satish I would have to disagree with you when you say that its an American film. I loved the part when Dan White comes to Milk and says that you're fighting about this issue and Milk says its not an issue, its our life. This is universal! What is being shown in the movie is simply a christian way of living. They do talk about similar struggles in Germany and Spain.

As for the movie, I thought it had brilliant symbolisms. One of the top of my head is when Scott and Milk are kissing right outside Castro shop and they show the board "We are open"

As for being politically correct or incorrect, I think it is too much to ask for from a 2 hour movie, correct me if I'm wrong.

man in the iron mask said...

sI already agree Archita, this is a good movie superbly made. But I wonder if there’s anything to be learnt. I mean, all the formal elements are expectedly in place.

But the question that seems to be bothering us is if there’s anything to be felt. I couldn’t. I tried and I couldn’t. I was engrossed, but just as soon the film ended it did slip out of my mind. I don’t know, but is the film more about the condition of gays or is it about Harvey Milk winning against Proposition Six. The way I see it, I could have found a stake if the film actually showed rather than using the words out of Anita Bryant or John Briggs. For me it became more of a political issue rather than a human issue. I hope you’re getting my vantage point.
Let us look at Brokeback Mountain. It squarely focuses on Ennis Del Mar and Jack. It is so personal (particular/specific) that our sensibilities are no longer constrained by the orientation bridge. It becomes a love story between two individuals who happen to be gay, and it could have been anybody. That is why I believe it ends up being universal.
Milk on the other hand felt to me about a man’s fight for a cause. If we see the cause, the CAUSE is a string of words for us. When we see a CAUSE/ISSUE we’re essentially looking at a generalized concept. When we see an EXAMPLE of why that CAUSE came into place that is when I believe we find a stake and our feeling get stoked. I don’t know if I am right but this is what I feel. You tell me.

But hey, Archita, how are you? How’re your studies? MICA, eh? Lots of films. Great to hear from you.

Archita said...

Oh most definitely it did not seem to me like it focussed on the cause as such. It was about Milk and moreso his personal relationships. If you observe you will see that there have been very few instances where he himself has suffered discriminations based on his sexual preferences (except of course the eventual assassination, but that too was more cuz of political reasons) But when I look at it now, it seems like they put in a lot of things than concentrate on one issue pertaining to it. Am I making any sense?

I absolutely agree with you when you say that I did not find myself really FEELING for the movie as much. Especially after I watched The Reader right after Milk! (The Reader, on the other hand, has stayed with me and I have yet to read your enormous review on it!)

I gave a thought to what I said in the previous post about what all can be covered in a 2 hour movie and I stand corrected (by myself!) Do watch a movie called "The shop on main street"

And hey I'm doing great! MICA is a good place to be at. Have a new found appreciation for movies and I'd like to think that now I can see beyond what a normal viewer sees :) Yes, LOTS of films! Will send over the enormous list. If you want to watch the most amazing homosexual movie, do catch "Just a question of love" And how are you? Believe it or not, I actually miss the useless BB conversations :)