Last December, colleague, friend and fellow cine-lover, Mr T and I saw Mickey Rourke tear up the screen in The Wrestler. We both agreed that it was a fine performance and reasoned that he would have to be favoured for the Best Oscar award. A couple of months later, Mr T announced he had just been to see the winner, Sean Penn in Milk. And so it turned out to be.
Penn plays Harvey Milk, gay rights activist and San Francisco councillor from 1977 and 1978. Based, on actual events, Milk became the campaigner for equal rights for gay people in the face of conservative and fearful opposition. He was assassinated in his office on 18 November 1978 and 30,000 people marched silently through the streets of San Francisco holding candles aloft, to mark his passing.
This is a sensitive performance from Penn where never for a moment do we believe he is not gay. His slight lisp and effeminate movements become a part of the character he his playing so that we do not remark on HIS ACTING or his “presence”. Perhaps we are used to Penn’s intensity on screen but here we see his enjoyment of life – laughing freely with his friends, his empathy for those in need and his great vulnerability with the few loves of his life. In this film we see two of them, played by James Franco and Diego Luna.
Harvey Milk typifies what is best observed about the ‘gay lobby group’; they are typically well educated, eloquent and motivated. Their campaign however goes beyond just ‘gay rights’. It was (and remains) about ensuring that equal rights and mutual respect are not put to the sword by prejudice and bigotry; for all oppressed groups : blacks, Asians, young, old, the disabled and so on. Its about hope he says, to make life worth living.
It is a nice touch I think that 3 actors in the film actually play themselves (albeit 30 years older), such as a union man or political script writer.
I found however that the storyline of tracking through Milk’s life and his rise of influence was not that interesting despite Penn’s fine and moving performance. 3 for the film and 1 for Penn : 4 out of 5.