starring: Sean Penn, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Diego Luna
written by: Dustin Lance Black
directed by: Gus Van Sant
Let's be honest, Milk is pretty much your standard, Oscar-bait bio pic. Sure, it's better made than most, but it certainly isn't in the same league as I'm Not There. Gus Van Sant does a good job mixing media in ways that so many of these things ignore, and perhaps in that regard, the film is special, but only marginally so. Milk, like so many bio pics, is an actor's showcase, and the acting here is good across the board. Sean Penn is marvelous as Harvey Milk, with a smile that seems to come from deep in his soul, and James Franco gives probably his best performance as Milk's long-time lover. Emile Hirsch is good, occasionally very good, but there's more than one scene where you can see that he's "Acting" and the effort is distracting.
The Diego Luna sub-plot is annoying and detracts from the film (and I'm a Luna fan). The core relationship of the film is the Penn/Franco one, so to spend so much time on Luna feels excessive. Show us how Luna affects Penn/Franco, how he affects the movement, rather than just letting him derail things. And, of course, that's how it happened, but that doesn't mean the film has to focus on it for a half hour.
One thing the critics have been talking about is how Milk so neatly dovetails with recent history, but I don't know if that's something you can credit the film for, or just some happy accident. The script by Dustin Lance Black is pretty ham-fisted, hitting the symbolism harder than needed, and it doesn't take much for an audience to make the connection between Prop 6 and Prop 8, especially when they essentially cover the same issue. I mean, how could you miss it?