Monday, September 29, 2014
IMDb plot summary: The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California's first openly gay elected official.
Directed by Gus Van Sant. Starring Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, and James Franco.
The best biopics not only describe historical events, but they also bring an emotional component. While the first is absolutely in this movie, the second is missing. It's an oddly cold movie, clinically portraying most events, with only a few moments creating much of an emotional moment.
This is exemplified in the way the story is framed. It's set up as a recording Harvey Milk made to be played in case of his assassination. About halfway through, I found myself wondering if he was really just going to dryly recap his political journey without actually offering anything insight. Sure, it's all interesting and important information, but it felt like reading a Wikipedia page instead of a biography.
There are just a few moments where this is not the case. The strongest are the two phone calls from the kid in the wheelchair. While Harvey says frequently in the movie that this is about people and about lives, that's one of the few instances where we as an audience get a chance to see it's true.
Several of the reviews I saw about this movie compared it to Philadelphia. While Milk is a more historically accurate flick, Philadelphia successfully hits an emotional note that Milk misses entirely. Milk actually kind of feels like the equivalent of those "Biblical fiction" novel that, sure, tell the story, but seem terrified to step outside the exact narrative to elaborate on characters, motivations, and the personal aspect. Disappointing.
Flickchart: #1192 out of 2226, below Swing Kids and above Cropsey.