This one was kind of a big deal. Not in the leather-bound books, rich mahogany sort of way. Although I appreciate those types of Bog Deals. No, this movie holds particularly significant significance to me and the greater community in which I live—the Bay Area. Though my knowledge of Harvey Milk was limited to a libel case I studied in a journalism class last year, his importance has grown over the years and has now reached (enter cliche term here) staggering proportions. Seriously. Sean Penn, bless his heart, has taken a hometown hero and placed him on a national and extremely timely stage, and I know that a vast majority of San Franciscans and outsiders alike are thankful for this holiday release.
Just to clarify, I liked this movie. I am not obsessed with it, which is weird because I got the impression that the filmmakers wanted people to be obsessed with it. (I used the phrase “glamour-soaked” before and I’ll use it again to describe some of the rosy, glistening face shots that peppered this film.) But I thought this story, much like the story in Brokeback Mountain, needed to be told, especially in light of the passing of Proposition 8 in California. I think Penn et al banked on Prop 8 not passing, which would have made this film’s release more triumphant and victorious, rather than ironic and bittersweet, but regardless of today’s politics it relays a message of hope and bravery that transcends time.
Penn was radiant. My mother told me that, when she saw the film, she couldn’t take her eyes off of him. Many critics have pointed out that dear old Sean is actually showing his pearly whites in this film, something he’s sort of known for avoiding in most other movies, so maybe this evident happiness gave him a new, more magnetic appearance. Whatever works, I say. He captured raw emotion, both in anger and in elation, while also capturing the essence of a man that most of the audience will meet for the first time in this movie. His supporting cast was pretty brilliant, too. James Franco may have been the most surprising, especially considering his most recent roles (cross-shaped toke, anyone?). It’s not often that a Seth Rogen-camp actor will cross over into this risky a role this early in his career, and it more than proves Franco’s versatility and sensitivity to cinematic storytelling. And I have a long-time crush on Emile Hirsch, so clearly I loved him in this role, too, though I wish his part would have been more deeply developed.
Harvey Milk knew he’d be a martyr, but he never hesitated to risk his life. His cause was one that had to be catapulted into the public eye in order to be saved, and when it comes down to it, this film is about civil rights. Plain and simple. And everyone wants their civil rights.