Milk (2008)

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Overall Rating 70%
Overall Rating
Ranked #851
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Connections: Person: Harvey Milk

Using flashbacks from a statement recorded late in life and archival footage for atmosphere, this film traces Harvey Milk's career from his 40th birthday to his death. He leaves the closet and New York, opens a camera shop that becomes the salon for San Francisco's growing gay community, and organizes gays' purchasing power to build political alliances. He runs for office with lover Scott Smith as his campaign manager. Victory finally comes on the same day Dan White wins in the city's conservative district. The rest of the film sketches Milk's relationship with White and the 1978 fight against a statewide initiative to bar gays and their supporters from public school jobs. --IMDb
Sean Penn
Sean Penn
Emile Hirsch
Emile Hirsch
Josh Brolin
Josh Brolin
Diego Luna
Diego Luna
James Franco
James Franco
Review by bluemeanie
Added: December 02, 2008
In November, while most of the civilized world was embracing change and the start of a new era in American politics and the eradication of prejudices that have plagued our society for years, one specific community - the homosexual community - was being targeted by the Conservative Force in the United States. Proposition 8 passed in California and various other anti-gay measures around the country passed, signaling that - while many different groups had reason to celebrate - the gay movement was being pushed further and further back. A man named Harvey Milk dealt with this same kind of prejudice in his day. He was the first openly gay man elected to public office, which was a member of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco. In his short span as a Supervisor in the city, he helped pass the Gay Rights Amendment and defeat the Briggs Initiative, Proposition 6, which prevented homosexuals from working in public schools and could even cause friends of homosexuals to be fired from their jobs. Harvey Milk was one of the most outspoken leaders of the gay rights movement and in 1978 he was assassinated alongside San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by a fellow Supervisor, Dan White. "Milk", directed by Gus Van Sant, chronicles Milks rise to power, his political career, his legacy and - ultimately - his departure.

We meet Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) in New York City in the early 1970's picking up a trick, Scott Smith (James Franco). It's Harvey's birthday and he doesn't want to spend it alone. Harvey and Scott move to San Francisco where Harvey almost immediately gets involved in public office, even coining his own nickname, The Mayor of Castro Street. He runs for the Board of Supervisors on numerous occasions and is defeated each time, though garnering more and more votes with each subsequent election. When the district lines are redrawn, he takes advantage of it and is elected to the Board of Supervisors. Emile Hirsch co-stars as Cleve Jones, Harvey's friend and campaign force; Alison Pill co-stars as Anne Kronenberg, his campaign manager. While serving on the Board of Supervisors, Harvey meets Dan White (Josh Brolin), a Conservative family man who doesn't approve of Harvey's lifestyle. The two develop an odd relationship that ranges from extreme distrust to a mutual acceptance of one another. Dan invites Harvey to his son's christening, for example. The film ends with Dan White shooting Harvey Milk and George Moscone multiple times for Moscone's refusal to reinstate Dan White to the Board of Supervisors after his resignation. These aren't spoilers - everyone knows the story. It's just the way things happened.

What director Gus Van Sant has done here is nothing short of miraculous. He has skillfully and perfectly re-captured a time in American politics and society. He has taken the Castro and given it a new life based on an old life. "Milk" is one of the most authentic portraits of a civil rights leader ever made and its especially important in these troubled times of intolerance. Van Sant uses old snapshots of the Castro and merges them with modern day footage that is seamless and really leaves a lasting impression. He takes archival footage - most featured in the Academy Award winning documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" - and re-creates it. The look and feel of the film is just fantastic - very uplifting and not depressing at all. A tragedy occurs but we are left with this feeling that, though Harvey Milk is dead, his legacy will never die. The score by Danny Elfman is destined for an Academy Award nomination and I would be hard pressed to think of a more deserving director this year than Gus Van Sant who continues to push the boundaries of cinema from film to film. "Milk" is really his most mainstream film in a long while, but it still maintains that indie flourish that was present in films like "Elephant" and "Paranoid Park". Van Sant is one of the best directors working today and this might be his year to make some cinematic noise.

As for the performances, I was left speechless. You never once think it's Sean Penn you're watching in this film. It is total immersion in a character. Watch "Milk" and then watch his performance in "I Am Sam" or "Mystic River". It's astonishing. He has the Academy Award all but officially won. James Franco also provides the best performance of his career, meaning this has been his most solid year to date with "Pineapple Express". Josh Brolin continues his string of flawless performance as Dan White, probably the most complicated character in the story. I also want to single out Emile Hirsch who does what Sean Penn does here, but to a lesser extent. It is so refreshing to see heterosexual actors attack this material with such abandon. My problem with "Brokeback Mountain" was always that I didn't feel like Ledger and Gyllenhaal just dove in to the content and the material - they did it, but with reservations. Penn, Franco and Hirsch have none of that feel to their performances - they seem real and very likable. If you want proof of how well they did, check out "The Times of Harvey Milk". Or, stick around for the end of "Milk" where they show photos of the actors in character and the real individuals they played. Some of it, especially Sean Penn and Emile Hirsch, is just uncanny. Perfecting casting all around here.

This is getting to be the time of year where I give so many four and five star reviews, but they do typically save the best for last. "Milk" is my new favorite film of 2008 and I assure you it's not just because I am a homosexual. I found numerous flaws with "Brokeback Mountain" and I am more critical of gay themed films than any others. "Milk" was a modern day masterpiece from a director who deserves all the accolades he is going to be receiving and more. It's proof positive than Sean Penn is neck and neck with Philip Seymour Hoffman for being the best actor in modern times. I want to watch "Milk" with friends and I want to watch it once again after that. I want to see it nominated for Best Picture, Van Sant for Best Director, Dustin Lance Black for Best Original Screenplay, Sean Penn for Best Actor and Emile Hirsch for Best Supporting Actor. I want to see this film win everything it deserves and more. It's a fantastic film - a real delight.

Tristan #1: Tristan - added 01/25/2009, 10:45 AM
Damn good film. Penn was as brilliant as always, and you didn't doubt him as Milk for a second. I don't think it's the 10/10 masterpiece everyone is hailing it as, but I would be disappointed if it didn't get at least a few Oscar nods.

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