Wednesday, November 04, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I couldn't imagine that Sean Penn's performance in "Milk" could have matched up to Mickey Rourke's performance in "The Wrestler."

What can I say - it did.

Penn's performance is the polar opposite of Rourke's. In "The Wrestler," it's impossible to separate Rourke the actor from the character he plays. Rourke's personality, and his history, fuel the performance. On the other hand, Penn completely disappears into Harvey Milk; he becomes Harvey Milk. Every moment that you see Randy "The Ram" onscreen in "The Wrestler," you're thinking about Mickey Rourke. But when you see Harvey Milk onscreen in "Milk," Sean Penn never crosses your mind. Is one performance "better" than the other? I have no idea. They're both great.

And "Milk" is a great film. Harvey Milk himself, no doubt, would be amused over the controversy surrounding Governor Schwarzenegger's signature on legislation designating May 22 as "Harvey Milk Day." While a man of great passion, he was also a man of great humor, and had the good sense (a trait so many modern politicians lack) not to take himself too seriously. I can't say that I'm an expert on the details of Harvey Milk's life, but I know enough about them to think that the details of "Milk" get just about everything right. And the film doesn't try to portray Harvey as a saint; for example, even his best friends and colleagues are mystified (and perhaps even offended) by Milk's relationship with Jack Lira, which quite obviously was based on nothing intellectual.

The supporting cast is excellent, but none is better than Josh Brolin, who manages to elicit a bit of sympathy for one of the least sympathetic human beings of my lifetime. Again, I don't know enough to know whether that's what Dan White was really like, but it certainly felt real.

All in all, a great movie.

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