What movie was that...?

19 October 2010


directed by Gus Van Sant

Gus Van Sant films are remarkable in that every one of them (bar the unfortunate remake of Hitchcock’s classic thriller, Psycho) find a way to draw you in, to sync your pulse with the film’s, to fuse your rhythms with that of the movie until you find yourself completely consumed, a part of the filmic organism. In Gerry, Van Sant utilized two of my generation’s strongest and (in Casey Affleck’s case) underrated talents to their fullest in a film that garnered the absolute minimum of critical acclaim (it deserved so much more), and in Elephant and Last Days Vant Sant painted quietly shocking portraits of youth snuffed by alienation. My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under the Bridge music video. These films swim with the melancholic need to make a connection, and in Milk, Van Sant tells the story of a man who strove to make that connection at any cost. Harvey Milk was stubborn, outlandish at times, and even shrewd, but he fought for what he believed in with a tenacity that is admirable no matter what wing of the political spectrum on which you find yourself. Sean Penn is astounding as Milk, channeling the first openly gay politician with gusto and verve, while supporting talents like Alison Pill, Emile Hirsch and Diego Luna bring such intoxicating life to a world on the cusp of a revolution. But it’s Josh Brolin who will floor you with his chillingly complex portrayal of Dan White, whose now legendary Twinkie defense with have you reeling. Van Sant and talented screen writer Dustin Lance Black refuse to vilify White, however, instead saving their venom for singer turned propagandist Anita Bryant (who, interestingly enough, plays herself, as Van Sant uses archival footage for her and her alone) as she spouts anti gay absurdity to the masses. Maybe Black and Van Sant felt compelled to let Bryant speak for herself, but the result is enragingly genius. Milk’s story is still improbably relevant here in the old US of A, which makes me sad more than anything, but Milk’s story, in the hands of a master like Gus Van Sant, bristles with the conviction and the drive of the man himself. Don’t let another day go by without giving this film an earnest viewing.

PS If you’re in the mood for something supplemental, peep the excellent doc The Times of Harvey Milk, directed by Rob Epstein. The doc garnered an Academy Award in 1985, but you all know how much I credit I give the good old Academy (I can’t help but sense a too obvious attempt to appear hip). It is something, nonetheless, and if nothing else, Times gives us a glimpse of the real Harvey Milk, the man and the myth.

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