Sunday, 1 March 2009

'I'm forty, and I've done nothing I'm proud of.'

Talking of plotting, we went to see Gus Van Sant's biopic of Harvey Milk last night. I enjoyed it, although the ending was pretty heartbreaking, and thought Sean Penn was outstanding in the title role. He may even have undone some of the damage done by his pompous, dick-waving directorial turn Into the Wild, but it's a little too early to say.

One note about Milk, though. It's very interesting how many films recently have dealt, in one way or another, with crises in the ego of the successful male. Here's the list that immediately springs to mind:

Goodnight and Good Luck (2005) - David Strathairn's fantastic portrayal of Ed Murrowgoes beyond the manifest politics to attempt a psychologisation of the newsman during his contretemps with Joe McCarthy.

Michael Clayton (2007) - George Clooney's high-powered fixer confronts himself at the same time as taking on the ethical shortcomings of corporate America.

Frost/ Nixon (2008) - Pretty much the same: Michael Sheen's David Frost isn't just taking Nixon to task, he's - with the aid of Sam Rockwell's left-leaning academic - interrogating his own lack of political responsibility.

The Damned United (2009) - Well, it's not out yet, but it's safe to say from the trailers (and the source novel) that the film will be at least as much about what took place in Brian Clough's head as what happened on the pitch.

Milk did open up avenues for psychological explorations, but it tended to close these down in ways that the above films didn't (or won't). Each time, we were returned to the dynamics of interpersonality, to engagement, to what one might do to alter their immediate political circumstances. There was less hand-wringing here than in a film like Michael Clayton, although it was, indisputably, a film which took an acute interest in how men perceive themselves and their achievements. Van Sant's decision to suggest psychologisations without following them up in their entirety gave the film a rather unusual texture, but it was probably the right directorial choice. In a way this was the anti-Dark Knight, in as much as Christopher Nolan's second Batman film repeatedly offers us glimpses of political engagement at the end of a long, incredibly dark tunnel of angst without ever quite letting us reach them. Good stuff, anyway.

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