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Milk movie poster


Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by:
Gus Van Sant
Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco
Released by: Focus Features

In Short: The determined and loveable Harvey Milk fights for his position as the first gay elected official in America in the 1970s.
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100% Milk
A Glass Half Full

Milk is a multi-faceted biographical film that not only reveals the story of a man on a mission, but highlights a passionate community which helped open a world of discussion on issues concerning civil rights and homosexuality. Sean Penn delivers a stellar performance as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to a major political office in America. The story follows the last eight years of his life through love and defeat as he passionately stands up for himself and the gay community in San Francisco until his tragic and untimely death in 1978.

Seeking equal rights and opportunity for all people, Milk surrounds himself with a lively cast of characters who bring strength and meaning to his political and emotional journey, including young hippie lover Scott Smith (James Franco); younger gay political activist Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) and Latin lover Jack Lira (Diego Luna).

James Franco and Sean Penn in Milk Sean Penn and Victor Garber in Milk

Prior to his life in San Francisco, Milk is portrayed as a closeted, conservative New Yorker. After meeting Scott Smith, he seeks spontaneous change at the age of 40 and moves to California, where he and Smith open a camera store in the Castro District as openly gay members of the counter-culture. Milk's courageous and contagiously friendly personality gets him noticed as he gains popularity and support from friends and volunteers. Fearlessly entering the world of politics, he forges his way to a position on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors as a voice for the gay community—not just locally, but nationally as well.

Compared to his other films, director Gus Van Sant (Mala Noche, Good Will Hunting) uses a surprisingly conventional style with Milk. Because the story itself is so fascinating, the film's credibility and likeability is upheld in a unique fashion by its characters' convincing performances, particularly by Sean Penn in his portrayal as a gay man. Van Sant's simplistic approach proves to be effective in the end, with the chronological nature of the film strengthened by relevant live footage, wardrobe, music and set design that captures the essence of the '70s.

Thoughtfully considering today's political discussions surrounding gay marriage and the acceptance of homosexuality, Van Sant does not overtly preach for change to his audience but simply reflects a truthful and heart-felt story, highlighting the struggles that America has overcome and what issues we continue to trip over today. Though Van Sant himself is gay, Milk is not directed solely toward the gay community as much as it is a unifying and universal message to audiences on activism, courage, friendship and dignity. Because of this, Harvey Milk can be seen as an inspirational hero who unselfishly fought for his beliefs to benefit others, allowing his legacy to resonate.

 Reviewed by Danielle Mankey

PKR120408 (Updated: 12/05/08 KR)

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