Monday, December 8, 2008


Oscar season is here, and a political film leads the way. Gus Van Sant's Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, the San Francisco activist who was the first openly gay person elected to American political office.

Milk is a critical darling, with a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a four- star write- up in Rolling Stone. Much of the love is directed at star Sean Penn, who delivers a layered and commanding performance in the title role. Penn is excellent, but Josh Brolin earns the highest praise for his turn as Milk's tightly wound and conflicted foil.

Despite these actors, however, the movie falls flat. Although it boasts a powerful and enlightening story, and a script that can be sharply funny, Milk devolves into standard biopic territory-- its arc is interchangeable with a movie like Ray-- even if you've never heard of Harvey Milk, you'll feel like you've seen the movie before. You have.

What the film offers in the freshness of its plot, it utterly lacks in originality and complexity. Ultimately, Milk is forgettable, and reaches the not-so lofty perch of "good" but certainly not "great."

Milk will probably clean up at award shows this year, its progressive message, star and subject have standing O potential, but it won't go down as the classic some are trying to make it. The movie is good, though, certainly better than the gratuitous, flat out boring movie that people fell for last year.

(Milk may be too conventional to be truly effective, but hopes are still high for another political entrant this season: Ron Howard's Frost/ Nixon debuts on Christmas)

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