Sean Penn is simply one of the most versatile people working in the film industry. His career mimics that of Clint Eastwood in some ways. He has taken on a broad range of roles that showcase his acting talents, and has redefined himself as a great director. Here he plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States. His performance is simply mesmerizing. One of the best of the year. He embodies this character, showing us his strengths and weakness’. It is truly a work of art.
This time he takes direction from Gus Van Sant, who is returning to more mainstream fair after directing a series of off beat projects that demanded a lot from viewers. Here, as he did with “Good Will Hunting”, he simply observes, and lets his actors do most of the work. We are pretty much made to peer in to the most intimate and broadest moments in a man’s life.
Harvey Milk was a gay man in a time when homosexuality was seen as sinful, and met with violence. When he turned 40, he reflected on his life as having achieved nothing. After meeting Scott Smith, played by James Franco, the two decide to move to San Francisco. They open up a pretty successful camera shop, but soon Harvey finds himself drawn to public office as a reaction to the way gay people are being treated. He calls on all gay people to stand up and come out of the closet so to speak. Over the years he runs several times, always being beaten. His team reflects that they keep getting closer every time. Finally he wins, and becomes a city supervisor. This is a milestone in American History.
His fight for equality really gets a boost as he makes a few allies, which includes the mayor. This is where we meet Dan White, played by Josh Brolin. He is a very conflicted man. He doesn’t so much hate gay people, as he does himself. Brolin’s portrayal of him is of a man who is depressed and angry without much reason. He eventually guns down Harvey, and the mayor.
For me, I love a good biopic that fully explores a period in someone’s life. Harvey has one of the most interesting stories i’ve sat through. Sean Penn’s performance is simply a wonder. If he is not nominated for best actor then there is simply no justice.
James Franco is turning out to have a break through year. First he stole the show as the stoner drug dealer in “The Pineapple Express”, and here he plays Scott Smith, Harvey’s lover, then long time friend, as a man who is worn down by the political machine. Emile Hircsh is also in this movie as Cleve Jones, a wet dog type who is taken under Harvey’s wing.
The message of this movie is pretty clear, and for those who still think that homosexuality is a disease, take a look at the best moment in the film. As all hell is breaking loose, Harvey gets a call from a young kid who has not come out about his sexuality yet, and is threatening to kill himself. Harvey doesn’t know what to say, but simply cannot put the phone down. It is a heartbreaking moment. It pretty much summed up why Harvey was going to the limit for what he believed was right. Because gay people are not diseased. They are what they are. I am what I am. We should be happy that we know who we are. We should not be thinking of taking our lives because of what others think we should be.