Gus Van Sant's Milk: A San Fran Tale...

Gus Van Sant's Milk: A San Fran Tale...

Films that aim to relay a story inextricably tied to politics in some way either come off perfectly or arrive as some sort of polemic, inciting its viewership to aspire to greatness instead of just sitting around watching movies. This later facet to filmmaking is obviously troublesome at points, but some how Gus Van Sant was able to render Harvey Milk in filmic terms that are agreeable to pretty much everyone – unless you hate the gays, that is.

Regardless, it’s odd that Van Sant has been able to move from such obtuse movie making like Elephant and Last Days, released in 2003 and 2005 respectively, to the relatively main stream Milk staring Sean Penn.

The only aspect of the film that disallows it from being a flick that everyone is interested in is that pesky gay taboo. Of course, liberalism is on fire – kinda – in this country for good or bad. So it’s not too surprising that the film was relatively well received. That being said, the story that Milk relates is most likely being played out again and again on the political landscape as we speak.

There’s less an element of outsiderness in respect to gay folks serving in the government now, but unquestionably, the topic still makes some uneasy – the whole military thing for instance.

Despite all of that overblown nonsense, Milk presents itself as a straight (no pun intended) film making endeavor for Van Sant. There aren’t any purposefully obscure moments that require explanation as the feature is linear as can be.

The plot begins with Harvey Milk heading home on the eve of his 40th birthday. Going down into the subway over there on the east coast, Milk, then a 9-5 schlub, runs into a young Scott Smith, here played by James Franco. The era being what it was, the two wind up in bed and eventually head out to San Francisco amidst a wave of gay folks moving to the very same place.

The one flaw in the film, even as Milk’s stated purpose is to document the political rise of its title character, is that there’s no explanation of why the gay population became concentrated in the Bay Area. Briefly, Milk recalls that Haight-Ashbury, once his home, had become a slum thus necessitating a move. But given the animosity that Milk and Smith encounter when opening their camera store, viewers are left to wonder why the Castro?

Disregarding this single omission, the film works on a variety of different levels. There’s the relationship that Milk maintains with Smith, until a younger Hispanic fellow comes along – and that’s rife with trouble. But along side all of the social issues addressed is the story of a self-realized politico that wouldn’t cease the fight that he perceived to be right.

Running for office three times seems a bit of a stretch, but after each loss, Penn is able to portray the wind that carries his character to the next election. Of course, the fact that anyone watching the film already knows how this ends might mitigate the gravity of its production, but Milk is still a genuinely well crafted piece of entertainment.