All posts by melissabenn

Freedom Writers

…………..And while we are on the subject of love, hope and change in unlikely places, please watch Freedom Writers starring Hilary Swank as an idealistic young teacher, apparently foolish enough to wear a string of pearls in her new job as an English teacher in a tough LA public school. The film gathers pace slowly but it works because it is admirably understated while knowingly utilising the conventions of TV drama.

This is Hollywood all right but it’s thoughtful, closely observed Hollywood. Even the intimate kitchen table scenes featuring agonised conversations between two middle class professionals having ‘relationship issues’ are saved ¬†from banality by the careful, well turned dialogue.

But Swank’s personal relationship is the side show. This is the story of a bunch of gang blasted kids who are slowly led towards a love of learning. They read Anne Frank’s diary in pristine new editions, books denied the students by the hard pressed and cynical management of the school but bought by Swank who works extra shifts as a concierge and underwear saleswoman to pay for them. She gives each student fresh minted A 4 size notebook in which to record their thoughts and the things that happen in their lives. The fragments that are read out are real, I presume, as this film is based on a true life story. It sent shivers down my spine.

Milk – Sean Penn

My respect for Sean Penn has grown over the years; the deal was probably sealed when I saw him in 21 Grammes with Naomi Watts. But if you’d told me even a year ago that this brooding charismatic actor was going to take the part of the impish but extraordinarily tenacious gay activist of San Francisco’s Castro district, Harvey Milk, I would have been puzzled or dismissive. Or both.

But Penn is brilliant in the role. He creates an entirely convincing and moving portrait of Milk, a vulnerable, determined, mischievous, clever and instinctive politician who recognised the importance of political representation and canny alliances to promote the cause about which he cared most passionately.

Milk is not just a moving recreation of a key cultural and political moment in recent history. It’s a hymn to the power of democracy, raw and messy as it so often is.