An outstanding director, Gus Van Sant, and an outstanding cast and crew, including music director Danny Elfman, showcase an important human rights leader in this high-impact biography starring Sean Penn. Indeed, Van Sant may have another mainstream breakthrough with this latest achievement, “Milk.”
Penn shines as the energetic “Mayor of Castro Street” Harvey Milk, the nation’s first openly gay city official, who was finally elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the late 1970s after several failed campaigns.
The star-studded film and its avant-garde director do a good job of staying out of history’s way in retelling the genesis of the gay rights movement from ground zero.
The film lacks Van Sant’s penchant for shock and sticks more to value in portraying the story as it unfolded.
It remains an up-front, intimate and authentic portrait with real-life footage throughout, which couples well with Van Sant’s signature use of super-8 film.
“Milk” begins in 1970 with a New York “insurance man” who realizes that at 40 he hasn’t accomplished anything in life he can be proud of. What follows is the inspiring true story of the climb to public office that brought gay rights into the nation’s dialogue.
Milk is imperfect and lovable as he is portrayed. He runs on a human rights platform, but gets the San Francisco Chronicle’s endorsement as a good businessman. Really, he does not run as a candidate at all, but as “part of a movement.”
Anita Bryant, the outspoken singer who made her crusade the anti-gay rights movement, appears in 1970s footage throughout the film. Enough footage, in fact, no actress was needed to recreate the foe.
Josh Brolin, who plays fellow supervisor Dan White, is, as always, reliably solid as the staunch white male dedicated to family, church and keeping up appearances.
And the supporting cast provides color and heartwarming detail. James Franco gives a standout performance as Milk’s longtime boyfriend Scott. Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and Alison Pill are also memorable as Milk’s friends and campaign staff.
“Milk” draws parallels and resonates. It also reminds us of the liberties we take for granted and the glaring struggle that remains ahead for gay rights advocates.
- Rated R
- Grade: A
- Now showing