by Chris Wisniewski (November 25, 2008)
“Politics is theater,” observes Harvey (Sean Penn) in Gus Van Sant’s terrific “Milk.” And sometimes, of course, theater — or cinema — is politics. When they first embarked on this project, Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black could never have anticipated that 2008 would see the election of a minority candidate and former community organizer, running on a message of hope, to the highest office in the land, nor could they have expected that Obama’s historic victory would coincide with the passage of Proposition 8 in California, delivering a major setback for the gay rights movement in the United States. But this is “Milk”‘s political moment, and the improbable confluence of events surrounding its release will undoubtedly define the film’s reception.
Some are likely to view Van Sant’s movie as a crushing rejoinder to Prop 8, others as an Obama allegory, and then there will be those who see it simply as a flawed but expertly assembled biopic. Each viewer’s reaction to “Milk” will likely depend on his or her political orientation and investment in its subject; when a film speaks so directly to its culture and its moment — even if its timeliness is coincidental — how could it be otherwise?
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