The critics are loving “Milk“, suggesting that it is the best movie of the year.
Milk is a message movie, but more importantly, it’s an openly proud and entirely self-possessed message movie that wears its progressive rhetoric on its rainbow sleeve.
The distinction is crucial, because when you get right down to the nitty-gritty nub of what director Gus Van Sant has been able to achieve with Milk, it goes beyond teaching a particularly loathsome chapter of American history.
Van Sant, the openly gay film director, has created a universally accessible movie about the birth of the gay movement that is not framed by shame.
Back when this movie was set, in the mid-1970s, shame was an inherent part of the entire gay experience and Van Sant quickly sketches the emotional mood in the opening credit sequence.
Small, plain white titles appear over archival footage of police raids on gay bars. Slowing down the black and white footage to a surreal, dreamy pace, Van Sant sends us through the glass darkly as we watch all sorts of men being loaded into paddy wagons with their hands hiding their faces from public scrutiny.
It’s mind-altering imagery because it’s obvious these men are not criminals, yet truncheon-swinging police are corralling them into custody. Their only crime is hanging out with other men, and being who they are, but back then — and in many places to this day — homosexuality was seen as a legitimate reason to deprive a human being of his or her civil rights.
It’s a prickly issue, and it sits at the very heart of Milk because recognizing gay men and women as social equals without stigma was Harvey Milk’s life mission.
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