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Milk (5/10)

by Tony Medley

Run Time 128 minutes.

This is one of two recent films that leftwing Hollywood can make and foist on an unsuspecting public with impunity. The first was Oliver Stone’s “W.” that unfairly lambasted a sitting U.S. President and his cabinet and advisors. This one is an unabashedly adoring biography of gay activist San Francisco politician Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) with all his halos. To put it another way, if Harvey had any warts, this movie doesn’t show them. He’s pictured as, in the words of the production notes, a “friend, lover, unifier, politician, fighter, icon, inspiration, and hero.” That doesn’t leave much more to qualify him for canonization. Ooops, actually that won’t happen because the only people who canonize other people for the sainthood are those in the Roman Catholic Church and Harvey wasn’t exactly a friend of the church. The Church feels that homosexuality is an immoral lifestyle and isn’t bashful about expressing this feeling.

But since the basic point of this film is to glorify the politician who fought for its acceptance, this film got the needed financing and A-list cast, headed by Oscar®-winner Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, and Josh Brolin, and directed by gay director Gus Van Sant. As such, one of Van Sant’s objectives seems to be to promote homosexual relationships as mainstream, so his film has a lot of scenes of two men kissing each other on the lips.

Van Sant’s film shows the last eight years of Milk’s life, from age 40-48, starting when he picks up Scott Smith (James Franco) in a New York Subway and ending when Dan White (Josh Brolin) shoots him dead.

Not surprisingly, Van Sant has inserted some bitchy scenes in the movie. For instance, he makes a big deal of showing the Catholic baptism of the child of Supervisor Dan White (Brolin) and his wife, and that Dan’s wife was less than thrilled that Milk attended. Van Sant shows the entire ceremony. The only purpose of this would seem to be to implant firmly in the viewers’ minds that White, who ended up assassinating Milk and Mayor George Moscone (Victor Barber), was a practicing Catholic. This film also has endless videos of Anita Bryant who was a thorn in the sides of gay activists in the 1970s. Everyone who opposes gay rights is shown as mindlessly bigoted, especially John Briggs (Denis O’Hare), who ends up debating Milk near the end of the film.

The film would have been much more trustworthy if it gave credit to people who have a good faith belief that the homosexual lifestyle is immoral and who feel that admiration for that lifestyle should not be imposed on others and their families and children. But those on the other side of this issue are all painted as unreasonable zealots. Not only that, but just about every minute of this film comes across as preaching. This doesn’t seem to be a very good marketing position since recent elections show that the majority of people, while tolerant of what people do in the privacy of their own home, frown on the gay lifestyle and don’t want it imposed on their children. Who wants to go see a movie that disparages a moral position of the viewer?

But while those who feel  the gay lifestyle immoral are painted as zealots, all those advocating it are shown as reasonable, understanding people.

Van Sant and his cohorts do their cause a great disservice by presenting such an unbalanced picture. Maybe Milk was a wonderful person, but when the presentation is so biased, it’s difficult to lend credence to this conclusion.

Even though Penn takes another shot at crying on screen, he still can’t muster up real tears. He has learned, though, because in this film when he cries he covers up his face with his hands, so his tearless wailing isn’t as laughable as it was in “Mystic River” (2003), because he won’t let us see the lack of tears. Sean is no dummy.

While Penn gives a good performance, capturing Milk’s gay mannerisms, the other actors seem to have been cast in accordance with their physical resemblance to the real people they were playing. Emile Hirsch, for example, plays Cleve Jones, and he looks a lot like the real Jones at that age. There are stills of the real people shown under the closing credits, so the audience gets a comparison between the actors and the people themselves. They are all pretty close.

I was looking forward to this film because I like biopics. However, in part because of its biased, unbalanced ideological slant, I found it disappointing. But worse, it is extraordinarily boring. Maybe it was because the cards were stacked so significantly to make Milk out to be the iconic hero alleged in the production notes. But was he a hero? Or just gay? In the end, the movie is more about his being gay than anything else.

If you’re gay, you’ll probably love this. If you’re not, you’ll probably be like me and fighting slumber throughout its better than two hour run time.

November 25, 2008