The “Twinkie Defense” (i.e., junk food made me do it) has to rank right up on top of the absurdity chart alongside the “Chewbacca Argument”. The difference between the two: the Chewbacca defense was an extraordinary concept put forth from the minds of the genius creators of South Park. The Twinkie defense, well that was a bonafide tactic actually employed during the trial of Dan White for shooting, in cold blood, Harvey Milk. I learned that and a few other interesting facts while watching the biographical film Milk.
For the record, I was also enlightened to the fact that Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to office and his monumental fight and resounding win against the oppressive California Proposition 6, (also known as the Briggs Initiative) is one of the main reasons San Francisco is a haven for homosexuals. These little tidbits will surely help me as I try out at the next Jeopardy contestant search.
Sean Penn, able to set aside his monstrous ego, tackles the role of the many times flamboyant Harvey Milk with gusto. With what looks like a prosthetic nose, within the first ten minutes or so, I no longer realized Penn was involved with the picture. He characterized the man, whom I suspect was very approachable, in a way that was palatable to the viewing public — even giving something that homophobes can identify with. And while it may have something to do with that time period and that lifestyle being foreign to me, I found it oddly captivating to watch him interact with the cast of characters surrounding him.
Those others are an interesting bunch too. James Franco as Scott Smith, Harvey’s true love, wears the scars of a scorned lover with class and dignity. Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones, one of Milk’s closest allies, comes across absolutely fabulously — really embracing his character’s feminine tendencies. Then there is Dan White (Josh Brolin), a troubled man who ultimately becomes Milk’s destroyer. Brolin is able to capture the man’s pain and anguish — plus his 70’s inspired haircut is quite the sight. If Brolin doesn’t win an award for W., he’s got a good chance for something with his acting here.
Piecing it all together is the work done by director Gus Van Sant. He doesn’t mire the movie down in unneeded material nor does he make the movie into a salty propaganda picture for the gay rights movement (some thanks undoubtedly belong to screenwriter Dustin Lance Black too). Also impressive was the look of Milk — the film has an aged feel and appearance, and with Van Sant deftly intermixing real footage with what he filmed it gave the movie an air of authenticity.
For a film about a person I knew nothing about and a cause I cared about even less, Milk kept me engaged and interested in the characters and how the story unfolded. This is a resounding compliment to everyone involved, as biographical films have a tendency to be either long-winded or agenda driven (skewing facts to pose one facet, either good or bad, of the man the story is being told about). This film is neither and along with the top-notch acting, I can’t recommend to see a movie more.