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Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Diego Luna

Director: Gus Van Sant

Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black

Cinematography: Harris Savides

Original Score: Danny Elfman

Running Time: 128 Mins.

“You never go full retard”, so said Robert Downey Jr. (as Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder) of Sean Penn in Oscar baiter I Am Sam, well the advice that fits more appropriately this time would beYou never go full gay”, for once again in his carreer Penn has chosen a role so blatantly written with a Golden Baldie in mind he might as well bear a badge saying vote Sean Penn, much less Harvey Milk!

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, for Milk is based on a true story of the first openly gay official voted into Californian office, famously murdered by Dan White, an opposing candidate, before his 50th birthday. Poignant stuff indeed, but a story that it would seem is best left in true documentary form, see The Life & Times of Harvey Milk (1984). Gus Van Sant is a director capable of very accomplished films, Good Will Hunting being the obvious example, and in Milk I had hoped for a similarly thought provoking experience, instead it has to be said that this had more in common with his shot for shot Psycho remake, needless and unimpressive as a whole.

Though positives do spike from the film, a handful of performances in particular, James Franco and Emile Hirsch only cement their staus with two very fantastically characterised performances demonstrating how hard Penn is trying in his lead role, for while he isn’t bad as such he just looks like Sean Penn trying his damn hardest to impersonate a gay politician for Oscar glory, only in two scenes does he shine and make his take on Milk more than just a imitation.

One being the assassination itself, which couldn’t fail to impact and two, the drunken conversation between Dan White and Milk at his Birthday party, scenes like this are much too few and far between and considering how excellent Josh Brolin is as White he doesn’t have nearly enough screen time. Building on his turn in last years No Country Brolin seems to be finally garnering the praise he is deserving of, but it’s too little too late in a filmic experience that can only be described as pedestrian A to B film making, Van Sant is capable of so much more, as is Penn when he isn’t show-boating.

VERDICT

Sean Penn on an Oscar crusade, you betcha (and that is far from a good thing!). A handful of support performances lift Milk from total mediocrity but the biggest criticism would have to be that it really serves no purpose as a film, and ultimately has nothing new to say about Harvey Milk and his crusade, seek out the 1984 documentary instead.

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