Monday, April 27, 2009
Directed by Gus Van Sant. I don't care much about Gus Van Sant though I enjoyed this a hell of a lot. My general rule is that I disapprove of biopics because they are unnecessary; I prefer to see documentaries. So more than 20 years ago I saw what may or may not still be considered the definitive documentary on Harvey Milk which is from 1984, "The Times of Harvey Milk," and is directed by Rob Epstein, who got a lot more attention with "The Celluloid Closet" in 1995. However, Prof. Lizie has impressed upon me that movies made from books and then biopics are simply different things. Like, it's not as if I'd say that animated films of trees are unnecessary because it's possible to film real ones. Which is not a bad point.
And a relevant one, because Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Josh Brolin and everyone else here do a damned fine job animating the trees so to speak. Watching biopics I've become very sensitive to those annoying moments where they're clearly compressing a bunch of real-life events and conversations into a single scene. But these actors deliver that sort of awkwardness with style and -- we easily trust -- great representations of the personalities they are recreating.
You know the tale, so I'll spare you. I meant to see that documentary again to compare it to this Van Sant movie but didn't bother because once I saw "Milk" I was pretty Milked out. Once you've sat through one two-hour-plus film of people getting hated on that with them getting assassinated by a sociopathic closet case, you've pretty much had it, I'd say.
What also contributed to my fatigue was the worst and best part of this flick. The best part was the way it switched to its real world personalities at the end, showing images of the real people and updating us on what happened to them (it also demonstrated what a nice job the actors did depicting these people). The part I didn't like was that the movie may have waited just a couple of minutes too long to do that, depicting a candlelight vigil for Milk that I'm sure real footage of exists, and looked maudlin and sappy as a Hollywood recreation.
Either way, a biopic worthy of its Oscar nod.