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For Harvey Milk Portrayal, Sean Penn Deserves an Oscar

Sean Penn’s performance as Harvey Milk, California’s first gay city official, will probably win him an Oscar. When a friend told me he had walked out of the film, I asked if the kissing scene hadn’t looked real enough.

On the contrary, he told me, it was “too real.” The fact is that Sean Penn gave an amazing performance of Harvey Milk as an ordinary person stumbling into politics, discovering that he could get votes by speaking out against people who don’t clean up after their dogs, and finally as someone who trustingly strode forth without recognizing the dangers around him.

Lamenting the fact that he’ll be forty at midnight yet still hasn’t done anything he’s proud of, Milk picks up a cute stranger and brings him home. More starry-eyed than promiscuous, Milk keeps falling in love, leaving a trail of broken hearts.

At the end of the day, we applaud Milk for his strength of vision, for his determination to follow through, yet Penn’s performance keeps reminding us that Milk is only human. At first I saw the film in a historical light, believing its message no longer relevant. Until, that is, I realized President Elect Obama is against gay marriage. I wonder how many gays gave him their vote.

Writing as someone who is not gay, I am left with a sense of admiration and pride in the individuality and courage of an extraordinary American. It’s what America is all about.

Release Date: October 28, 2008
Runtime: 128 min.
Genre: Biography/Drama
Rating: R for language
Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Alison Pil
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: 5

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