I just realised that despite significant mentions on our other academy award hopefuls Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler and The Dark Knight , no-one has yet made comment on Milk. Winner of the best original screenplay and best actor oscar for Sean Penn, this is director Gus Van Sants most mainstream movie to date. I previously watched 'The life and times of Harvey Milk' documentary a couple of months ago (great by the way) as an initiation to the story, but then unfortunately missed the movie in theatres. Since we took delivery of the DVD copies of Milk last week, I thought I might spout off.
This movie really paid off for me on two grounds; the story and it's execution.
I'm a bit of a fan of director Gus Van Sant. He is one of only a handful of directors including Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood that I would actually trust to tell a story like this properly and with sensitivity. Also he has a minimilist film-making style which I prefer to the epic celluloid splurges often associated with the aforementioned directors.
Van Sant is brave and visually arresting. He consistently tackles subjects that would be cheaply exploited by a less mature director and his films for me are an experience to watch. He has an uncanny skill for creating engaging individual characters by really holding the camera close and just letting us watch. I recommend anyone who hasn't seen Elephant or Last days to give these films a chance. His control of tone and pacing draws you right into to the film and makes you appreciate the minute details of each scene. Once he has you comfortable he hits you with the extraordinary, the unusual, the reason he is telling this tale.
I understand that this is a Hollywood big hitter but for me it has kept it's integrity (Good Will Hunting anybody?) and distills an important time and an important message. This is documenting history not a historical document, despite this I imagine the director respectfully sees it as a responsibility to do the Harvey Milk story justice and it is nice to see a life story preserved so artfully. We shouldn't go without mentioning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black who actually won the oscar and rebooted the Milk story from a failed previous attempt by Van Sant. The truth and inspiration in this sort of film is really what makes movies worth watching.