Comments on watching and making films.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Gus Van Sant has been one of the most consistently good filmmakers of the last twenty plus years. From his breakout film Drugstore Cowboy, to his Oscar winner Good Will Hunting, to his critically acclaimed trilogy about death (Gerry, Elephant,  and Last Days), Van Sant has made a lot of great films on a small, independent scale. Milk is probably the closest he's ever really gotten to making a mainstream movie, and may be the closest he will ever get.

Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first openly gay city official. It picks up Harvey's story on the night of his fortieth birthday in New York City, when he meets Scott Smith(played by James Franco), the man who will, effectively, become the great love of Harvey's life. Harvey and Scott eventually migrate to San Francisco to be a part of a more gay-friendly environment, and settle in the Castro district. As time goes on, Harvey see's so many things about his environment that he wants to change, but, in order to do so, he must gain the power to do so. In order to do this, he runs for a city supervisor position and loses. Every few years he runs again and again, and loses again and again. By this time, he has become famous in his community, but when he decides to run one more time, he loses Scott, who walks out on him, sick of having to deal with Harvey giving all of himself to politics. It is then that Harvey wins the position. When he takes his seat, he meets, and tries to allign with another newly elected supervisor - Dan White(played by Josh Brolin). Harvey tries to support Dan, but eventually begins to become more and more famous, and more and more adamant about changing the city's laws and treatment towards the homosexual population. This causes friction between Dan and Harvey, and eventually, after losing his job, Dan comes back to City Hall for Harvey, with a gun.

Milk is an interesting film from a historical perspective. It made me realize that the homosexual population, especially in America, have there own history, their own hero's and villian's. All of the actor's did an exceptional job, though sometimes it feels like Sean Penn's Harvey Milk seemed to be schizophrenically flamboyant. One moment he would be the serious politician looking to change things, and the next he came off as almost a Hollywood stereotype (though I do stand by the fact that stereotypes are born out of truth, and therefore there may have been truth to Penn's flamboyance). Ultimately, though, the film suffered the fate of many recent biopics - it was just kind of boring. I mean, Van Sant did all the right things - used period news reel footage, included the most interesting and relevant parts, and gave us characters we could cheer for but, still, something was just missing. I think that, ultimately, the biopic (in general) suffers from the fact that, ultimately, you know what the outcome is. It's so hard to find a story to tell that someone either doesn't know the outcome of, or couldn't hit up wikipedia or google to find every last ounce of relevant information to. Milk is a good film, and certainly a good addition to Van Sant's resume, but I found myself, at the end, saying "Alright", getting out of my seat, walking out of the theater and not caring about anything I saw for the last two hours just like I have with almost every biopic I've seen in the last couple of years.

No comments: