June 19, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Thursday, 05 March 2009 14:16
As the dust settles on Oscar for another year, the Reel Dad takes a look at the winner of two Academy Awards, Milk, including one for Best Actor Sean Penn. Take a look.
In many ways, it seems like yesterday. Though 30 years have passed, the days of bell-bottom jeans and loud shirts and large-frame glasses seem so much nearer, as though the eighties and the nineties never happened. Perhaps because it was a time of youth, an era of limitless hope, the spirit of the decade of the seventies never seems to pass.
The brilliant film Milk is, at one of its many levels, an exquisite recreation of this most fascinating decade. From the seamless integration of actual news broadcasts and file footage to the meticulous recreation of the period’s look and clothing to the pitch-perfect recreation of its attitude, Milk could very well be entitled, A Day in the Life of an Amazing Decade.
But Milk is, at the same time, the study of a man, an operator of a camera store in a little-known neighborhood of San Francisco who became a cultural icon for a cause. The idea that an Oscar-winning film would someday be made about the life and contributions of the nation’s first openly gay elected official may never have occurred to his contemporaries had Harvey Milk lived to a natural death. But his murder by a disgruntled political rival — at a time when the gay rights movement was just discovering its voice — made Milk a martyr for a generation to revere.
Sean Penn, in an extraordinary portrayal, carefully reveals the many layers of Milk, not simply focusing on his political activism but also exploring his personal tendency for self-destruction. This is not simply an impersonation of a public figure recorded in thousands of feet of news footage. Penn, in fact, does not resemble Milk, nor does he try to duplicate all of Milk’s mannerisms. Instead this most brilliant actor inhabits the soul of the man. Penn, usually known for his brooding work (such as his first Oscar turn in Mystic River) is outrageously extroverted this time around. He is funny, charming, endearing, lovable, touching — in ways we don’t expect from Penn. It is an uncanny accomplishment.
But Milk is much more than the Sean Penn show. Every biopic needs a villain and, fortunately, this film has Josh Brolin. This most subtle of actors wrings every possible moment and meaning out of what could have emerged as a one-dimensional portrayal. But Brolin is too inventive for that to happen. He brings the character and the conflict to life. And Emile Hirsch is nuanced and moving as a young man personally touched by Milk’s attention and socially driven to keep his cause alive.
What makes the accomplishment of Milk so astounding is how it sidesteps the content of its politics to celebrate the meaning of its message. In those waning days of the seventies, personal freedom could not be taken for granted, and each small step was a giant accomplishment. There is much to celebrate, ironically, at the end of the film, as a generation finds its voice. Of course, we know today, as they did not, that as they march in unified triumph to city hall in San Francisco, the dark cloud of AIDS is just around the corner.
This film should be required viewing for every thoughtful parent of teenagers in its presentation of a moment in time, a lifestyle, a cause, a hero.
* Content: High. This is an important film about a critical period in U.S. history as well as a beautifully developed drama.
* Entertainment: High. No matter how serious and sincere the content, the humanity of the moment is never lost. You will have some good laughs.
* Message: High. How far we have traveled, how far we still have to go. This film reminds us that some journeys never end.
* Relevance: High. Anyone who loves anyone will find something to celebrate in this moving tribute to a man who cares beyond himself.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The issues revealed in the film, and the impact of this moment in time, can open meaningful conversations with your older children.
5 Popcorn Buckets
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