VERY GOOD (See it in theaters now. And I mean NOW!)
It’s hard separating the man from the movie with Milk, a biopic about a life that deserves something beyond a mere excellent rating. However, let’s set aside the political and social relevance from the filmmaking.
The performances by Penn, Franko, Hirsch, and Brolin are top notch. Penn and Franko have chemistry even though they’re straight. Then again, who wouldn’t have chemistry with James Franco? Only Diego Luna’s over-acting dipped below good. Pacing, mood, setting all get high marks. However, this is one of those rare cases where putting together excellent components yields only a very good film.
Mixing TV footage from the era directly into the movie didn’t make the film more real; it disrupted my immersion and broke the spell of being in a movie rather than just watching it. Spike Lee’s otherwise good film, 25th Hour, suffered from the same gimmick. There were points where the footage did matter to the plot, but I’d rather have seen the actors watching it on TV to avoid the obvious inconsistency of film and footage.
Beyond that, it’s hard to pinpoint why this film doesn’t get the excellent I would so like to give it. Maybe real life lacks some kind of alchemy that’s only possible in fiction like in the whole-and-parts excellence of a similar period piece, Tales of the City. However, I don’t think this explains the virtual snubbing by the Golden Globes with only one nomination. The Academy better do better.
See this film on its merits as a movie and as an education in the equal rights struggle we in the LGBT community are still fighting. A documentary about Milk was one of the first positive films I’d seen about being gay. Boys in the Band and Cruising, not so much. Beyond the idea of a normal life being gay, Harvey Milk gave people like me an example of a life well-lived in public service.