Fact is, Van Sant, after 30-plus years of filmmaking, has become one of Hollywood's most endlessly fascinating, if hard to define, directors, someone who has made films that succeed both with industry bean-counters (Good Will Hunting and To Die For) and critics (Elephant and Paranoid Park).
Hoberman told WW via email: "Van Sant is one of the leading U. filmmakers of his generation—independent or otherwise. I would bracket him with Steven Soderbergh, Richard Linklater and [fellow Portlander] Todd Haynes." He adds: "While Van Sant certainly has a recognizable set of interests, his work over the past 20 years is distinguished both by his range and capacity for reinvention.
If the cops were assembling at the corner, and there were a group of Castro street denizens yelling at the cops, it's not like, 'Where's Harvey? The Hollywood Reporter, in a glowing review, calls it a "very human document that touches…foremost on the need to give people hope." Variety agrees: "In a project whose greatest danger lay in its potential to come across as agenda-driven agitprop, the filmmakers have crucially infused the story with qualities in very short supply today—gentleness and a humane embrace of all its characters, even of the entirely vilifiable gunman, Dan White." Even though it seems like everybody's talking about Milk, with Van Sant, not so much.[on 'Restless'] Younger cancer patients form these relationships with complete strangers because the depth of the tragedy is so great it wipes out the standard support systems of friends and families.Parents can't cope, so they make new friends - and they can be staff at the hospital, or someone they just picked out.He's not so much shy as he is an invisible witness to the world around him.Whether it's on film or in person, he has a way of disappearing into the background.It's not that he doesn't talk about being gay, he just doesn't talk.When his films end, for the most part, that's where the audience's relationship with Van Sant ends, too."The existence of the Castro and the movement itself is way more amazing.Harvey was a street person, and Castro was his street.In chronological order, the film goes from Milk's fumblings with coming out at the age of 40 to his emergence at 47 as a political insider—smart, strategic and able to straddle gay and non-gay issues with equal aplomb.But ultimately Milk was a single-issue candidate; as he says early in the film, everything he did was "done with an eye on the gay movement." Milk's strategy was to "start with our street," as Penn, who portrays Milk so forcefully in the film, says when rallying his Castro constituents to fight against the anti-gay initiatives that were spreading across the country at the time, including a measure that would have forced gay teachers out of California schools. "It's about our lives." "What I liked about making this movie was more the Castro itself than actually Harvey," said Van Sant.