"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Skim Milk

Sean Penn cracks me up.  He makes me laugh nervously when I watch his anguished performances.  He’s a fine actor but such an…actor.  So when I saw the previews for Milk and saw Penn as the Gay activist address a crowd with a bullhorn…”I know you’re angry…I’M ANGRY!” that was enough to get me giggling.  

This is gunna be good.

Gus Van Zant directed the bio-pic which gave me hope that this movie would be a riveting experience.  False hope, as it turns out.  The movie, like so many of its kind, is an earnest civics lesson.  It is well-crafted and informative and dramatically dull.  Penn gives a deliberate performance and he’s game–he throws himself into the role.  But it also feels self-aware.  So does the entire movie. 

I guess I’ve always expected the comic in Penn to re-emerge.  His small role in Fast Times has turned out to be an anomoly, though I thought he walked away with Carlito’s Way too. 

I don’t mean to suggest that the role of Harvey Milk is a funny one, necessarily, but the character does have a quick-witted sense of humor and it offered Penn a new challenge.  He gets credit for trying, but in the end, it is a studied performance.  He is restrained when you feel he should be manic.  And the blame falls squarely on a static script that doesn’t allow the characters to develop in complicated or interesting ways.    

Penn and Van Zant and James Franco and the rest of the filmmakers have good intentions, but that alone is not enough to make a memorable movie.

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1 Mattpat11   ~  Nov 30, 2008 2:07 pm

Trey Parker and Matt Stone sum up my feelings on Sean Penn quite nicely.

"And who cares. You're Sean Penn."

His cartoonish antics make him completely impossible to take seriously, particularly when he tries to make statement performances.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Nov 30, 2008 3:56 pm

The movie isn't as bad as I may have suggested. It was entertaining but like a documentary. Milk himself was a pretty incredible figure.

3 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 30, 2008 7:43 pm

agree about Penn..too many forced performances. And how could he win an Oscar for Mystic River but not Carlito's Way?!? I missed the credits for Carlito and had no idea it was him till the end, a brilliant performance. For some reason I always associate "dramatic" Penn with Nicole Kidman, though I can't articulate just what it is that is similar about them...

4 Alex Belth   ~  Dec 1, 2008 10:54 am

I do have to give Penn credit for trying though. He does throw himself into his roles. And after thinking about it I do think he managed to capture the love and spirit that was at the heart of Milk's activism.

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