Monday, December 22, 2008

Milk: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

If you put yourself through Steven Zallian's remake of All the King's Men, and endured Sean Penn's ridiculous, scenery-devouring performance as Willie Stark, perhaps you began to wonder if Penn was on his way to becoming a new version of Al Pacino, someone who was just going to impose himself upon a movie, yelling and screaming over his co-stars and the script. After watching his portrayal of Harvey Milk, however, I take that thought back because Penn shows what a fantastic actor he can be by totally immersing himself into a character who relishes his free-spirited, hedonistic lifestyle, while also living in fear of hatred and persecution, but eventually finds his identity and purpose in a passionate fight for legitmacy and equality.

Everyone involved with the production does great work here - whether it's James Franco, who exudes a subtle strength and warmth as Milk's lover and best friend; Emile Hirsch, as perhaps a younger version of Milk, who finds fulfillment in a larger cause; or Josh Brolin, who loses his apparent innocence in what he perceives as a betrayal - including Gus Van Sant, who's emerged from the hibernation of smaller, experimental films to create what I think is the best movie he's ever made.

It's not a perfect film, with a screenplay that follows some of the standard biopic story beats and perhaps tries to fit too many characters in - though I certainly wouldn't dare to suggest who would be taken out, as these are real people who all played a role in actual events, and each actor makes you care about his or her character (with the unfortunate exception of Diego Luna, who's really kind of annoying) - but maybe I just felt the end came about too quickly because I was enjoying the whole thing so damn much.