I'll start out saying this: I never cry in movies. I don't know why that is, and on multiple occasions it has made me feel like a callous asshole, but it's just the truth. I don't cry in movies. Every so often one will come by that might make my eyes fog up a little, but until last night, I didn't remember the last time a tear actually rolled down my cheek, let alone multiple tears! I didn't cry during Changeling, I didn't cry during I'm Not There, I didn't cry during Into the Wild.
But I cried in Milk, and not just a little tear, tears streaming down my face. And this was all still possible even with an ornery, bitter old woman "shhhhh"-ing me through the whole film when I wasn't even talking. I call a movie that can distract me from that a success.
The acting was brilliant, to say the least. Sean Penn stole the show. He's so versatile, his roles always bring out different sides of him. His portrayal of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected City Supervisor of San Fransisco, who was assassinated, was heart-wrenching. He transformed into the buoyant, childlike form of Milk, the polar opposite of the brooding Sean Penn we see in public. The moment he came onto the screen I was floored. I didn't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't the flamboyant, bouncy, happy creature that Sean Penn had created. It was astounding, and I don't say the lightly.
It may also have touched me at such a level because I truly cared about the issue that this movie was addressing. Civil Liberties, and the freedom the have them no matter what your race, gender, or sexual preference is. The movie centralized on Milk's journey to office, and his fight against anti-gay bills such as Sen. Biggs's Prop 6, which tried to get all homosexual teachers and their supporters fired in an attempt to "protect" the nations children.
as I've mentioned before, the cast of this movie was superb. Sean Penn couldn't have pulled off his role so well if not for the contrast of his supporting actors. James Franco is the first that comes to mind, playing Milk's long time partner Scott Smith. The tenderness which is evident between the two is touching, yet not gratuitous. They don't make them kiss just to see two men kiss, they have them kiss to show the love, just as they would in any movie about a heterosexual relationship. Another supporting character who serves to add to the comedic aspect is Emile Hirsch. Hirsch plays Cleve Jones, a gay rights activist who was extremely active in Milk's campaigns. Hirsch acts as a playful reminder of what Milk and Co. were fighting for: the freedom and carefree ways of the masses.
Josh Brolin plays Dan White, the assassin of both Milk and Mayor George Moscone, who was one of Milk's largest supporters. Dan White is the epitome of a sheltered homophobic male. He is elected as another City Supervisor of a different district, and is the only person who perpetually votes down, to no avail, all of Milk's prospective motions. After resigning and being refused when he pleads for his job back, Dan White shot Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk in cold blood and was later convicted of minimum charges and only served 5 years in prison for both murders. Josh Brolin brings the vulnerability of a man at odds with the future. He's a horrible creature, but we also feel sorry for him. Brolin portrays the uneducated male impeccably, and I feel like this is why we are able to sympathize with, while not forgive, Dan White. He simply went crazy, and didn't know any better. You still end up hating him in some way, though, after he destroys the man you've come to love while watching the movie.
Gus Van Sant, local Portland director, deserves much praise for his job in this. He integrated old news footage of protests, elections, speeches, parades, and of the infamous Castro District into the modern footage of Sean Penn and others. While the story focus's on Prop 6, footage of the infamous Anita Bryant is spliced in. For anyone who doesn't know, Anita Bryant was an anti-gay pro-"family" singer/actor turned activist, if you could call her that. She latched onto Sen. Briggs and the two of them started an anti-gay crusade across the nation, from Dade County, FL, to LA.
This movie is an excellent portrayal of what we've accomplished as a country, but it also shows the not-so-sweet side, and the film shows us just how possible it is to overcome it.
I give it a 9.5/10.
Please go see it!