Milk Gus Van Sant

Milk Gus Van Sant
In his acceptance speech, Dustin Lance Black summed up almost everything Harvey Milk is about when he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Black's ability to encapsulate a life and a struggle in a few short words is also the reason why he so richly deserved the Oscar in the first place. Milk is a fantastic and inspiring film on many levels, but most of all because it's the rarest type of Hollywood film: a biopic that actually conveys rich characterization and plot development in small snapshots of a larger life. Black starts the film with Milk's life-changing decision, at age 40, to come out of the closet and start a new life in San Francisco, and spends the first hour leading up to Milk's first electoral success after being a three-time loser at the polls, The remaining hour details how much Milk achieved during his one brilliant year in office at San Francisco City Hall before he became a martyr for the then-unstoppable gay rights movement in 1979. As Milk, Sean Penn delivers the performance of a lifetime, precisely because we barely recognize him. Though there is much tragedy in Milk's life, the normally brooding Penn excels at portraying the joy and optimism that Milk brought to the struggle, and demanded of everyone around him. Penn is both deadly serious and delightfully goofy - rarely, if ever, has he shown such range in a single character. Director Gus Van Sant took some heat for how sanitized and safe Milk is as a movie but that's precisely why it works. Every biopic cliché we've seen a thousand times - the eureka moment, the early struggles, the ditzy and demanding spouse who just can't understand - is superceded by Van Sant's investment in his actors and the uncanny accuracy of the set and costume designers, not to mention Black's script. Too bad none of the holy trinity here - Penn, Black, Van Sant - show up on the half-hour of extras on this disc. There's no commentary track, and less than three minutes of deleted scenes don't cut the mustard either. The best supplement to Milk is the two-disc set assembled for the Oscar-winning1984 documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. Maybe Criterion will package it all together in a few years. (Alliance)