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Screen Scene: “Milk”

By Michelle Castillo

November 25, 2008 9:25 pm

There are many unsung heroes that die too young and never get their story properly told. Especially with issues like Proposition 8 still fresh in everyone’s mind, there is no better and more appropriate time to highlight those who have stood for justice and civil rights for all.

“Milk” retells the story of Harvey Milk, a 1977 San Francisco city supervisor and the first openly gay man elected to public office in California. Starring Sean Penn (“Mystic River”), James Franco (“Spider-Man”), Josh Brolin (“W.”) and a supporting cast of other highly talented actors, the film does justice to this tragic story and moves the viewer to action.

The audience is instantly drawn to Milk, a 40-year-old living in New York, who feels empty since he feels he has not accomplished anything in his life. After deciding to move to San Francisco with his significant other, Milk’s eyes are finally opened to the inconsistencies and cruelties that are suffered by the gay and lesbian community. Using his charming and charismatic personality, the story unfolds as Milk begins his foray into the political arena, campaigning for equal rights for all and drawing allies from the most unlikely of places and people.

The brilliance of the movie is found in the realistic portrayal of the characters in the movie. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (“Big Love”) is careful to show the flaws of each character, turning them into people that the audience can relate to rather than highly idealized characters that people cannot aspire to be.

As Milk, Penn delivers an Oscar-worthy performance that causes even the most casually interested audience member to be moved to tears. He does not create Milk into a mythological creature; instead, Milk is shown struggling with the personal relationships he has in his life, in addition to dealing with the defeats that he suffers in his fight for gay and lesbian rights.

This performance from Penn isn’t the only one that drives this powerful movie. The supporting cast helps hold the movie to high standards. Franco provides a breakthrough performance as Scott Smith, Milk’s significant other. A far cry from his stoner role in “Pineapple Express,” Franco portrays the struggles of being in a relationship with someone who is working for political freedoms and the tribulations of seeing how it affects that person mentally and physically. The dynamic between Milk and Smith is just like any other straight relationship, with just as much compassion and love as there would be in a so-called “traditional” pairing usually portrayed on the big screen.

By intertwining scenes that look and feel like the ’70s, the film feels like it comes directly from that time period and helps the viewer feel the emotions and feelings of the time.

“Milk” also doesn’t feel too dated. Due to the fact that many individuals are fighting for the same reasons today, the audience can relate to the subjects discussed in the film, making it relevant for filmgoers today.

While some might not agree with the stance on gay rights issues that the movie holds, they would be hard-pressed to find someone who can disagree with the message of hope and love that “Milk” delivers. In a time where our president-elect has rallied our country by the same message and theme, “Milk” succeeds in providing a timeless movie with a meaning that can teach everyone, at any end of the spectrum, a lesson.

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Michelle Castillo
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