Milk (2008)

Biography, Drama, History
Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna
The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California's first openly gay elected official.
Anchored by Sean Penn's powerhouse performance, Milk is a triumphant account of America's first openly gay man elected to public office.
  • Focus Features Company:
  • R Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 30 Jan 2009 Released:
  • 10 Mar 2009 DVD Release:
  • $31.7M Box office:

All subtitles:

Trailer:

Everything comes together in this one5/10
Let's get one thing out of the way. Is it entertaining? And how! Sean Penn's best performance to date – Oscar quality; Emile Hirsch riotously perfect (best "supporting?"); James Franco heartbreaking; Diego Luna, devastating; Josh Brolin, flawless. Not one false note in any of the actors – a very complicated story unfolds with absolute clarity. I will be seeing this one again just for the screenplay. I was very gratified that no attempt is made to be "delicate" about Harvey Milk's personality, either his sex life or his out-sized ego, which perhaps ironically for some, makes him all the more heroic. The finest "political" film I think I've ever seen. It does more than dramatize a strong true story, it captures convincingly the truth about a whole political movement. (One that's as freshly active as today's headlines: Prop 6 or Prop 8 — does it ever end?) There is an ease and familiarity to the "scene" — to the historical period and place — with very few, small anachronisms, as far as I could tell. This is also the most assured work of Gus Van Sant, a genuine film artist, who here delivers a complete drama with real visual style and brazen wit. The blending of documentary footage is the most seamless I can remember seeing anywhere. The crowd scenes are remarkable, and all of the location shooting miraculously right. For a couple of fast, fast hours, I felt as though I had spent a couple of days — hilarious, intense, inspiring days — immersed in 1970s San Francisco. This movie does what all movies should do. See it.
"I'm 40 and I haven't done anything"9/10
Gus Van Sant's talent and humility allows Harvey Milk to be a the center of this remarkable story without putting himself in front of the camera. Sean Penn shines with a new and extraordinary light as Harvey Milk. His humanity is overwhelming at times. That permanent smile defining his face talks volumes about his faith in people, no matter what. His awareness is filled with truth and innocence, he worries he's about to be 40 and hasn't accomplished anything. Little did he know.The film is constructed brilliantly in a series of vignettes that builds up into a whole fluid narrative. Josh Brolin, as the disturbed Dan White is another standout in a complex and remarkable performance. No cheap shots here. Diego Luna, Joseph Cross and Emile Hirsch are also terrific as the boys around Harvey but it is James Franco who truly gets under your skin. His romantic turn is one of the most compelling gay love stories I've ever seen (and I've seen Brokeback Mountain). Highly recommended!
Great Actors and a Great Filmmaker at the service of a Great Story9/10
Enormously moving film/document about the raise and fall of Harvey Milk. If you don't know who he was, you will. The most startling feature of the film is the casting of Sean Penn. A stroke of genius. I, personally, never would have though that the range of this fantastic actor was as wide as this. He took me over and convinced me. I was watching Harvey Milk himself and Penn with the extraordinary support of his director never betrays that illusion. I'm sorry "Milk" didn't come out a few weeks ago. For those in California having to vote for Proposition 8, it would have been easier to decide just by watching Anita Bryant ranting about the evils of homosexuality. She sounded ridiculous then, Im sure, but today she sounds ridiculously ancestral. The vision of Harvey Milk is still, unfulfilled but we're certainly getting closer. Gus Van Sant surrounds our hero by an extraordinary group of young actors, in particular Emile Hirsch, James Franco and a superlative Josh Brolin. Not to be missed.
Sweet And Powerful Milk9/10
It happened only 30 years ago but it looks and feels as if it had been much, much longer and yet we're still dealing with many of the same issues. Gus Van Sant moves slightly and respectfully to mainstream to tell us this inspiring and tragic story. Sean Penn is superb as Harvey Milk, none of the traits that made him famous are present here, other than his talent that is, he exudes a positive sweetness that is compelling and contagious. Josh Brolin as Dan White, manages the impossible by giving the assassin an unexpected but welcome humanity. James Franco as Milk's lover is, quite simply, scrumptious. As it happens with most biopics we're forced to run from event to event to be fair and accurate and "Milk" suffers from that. I wanted more insight into Diego Luna's character - the most problematic - and into Emile Hirsch's character but the essentials are here and the essentials must be listed in lyrical terms. History yes but also poetry. Hope as a theme. A triumph!
A chronicle of history10/10
I had little expectations walking into this film. The trailer for this movie has appeared at almost every feature film I've seen for the last two months. But, the trailer is a facile example of this minutely detailed story of the rise of a leader and his martyrdom. While I'm familiar with the story from other sources (Shilts' "The Mayor of Castro Street," and the 1984 documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk"), Gus Van Sant and his cast bring a new immediacy to this story.

None involved in this project could have anticipated the political climate of the premiere of this film: Both the hope of the Obama Presidency and the propaganda that helped Proposition 8 win in California. It seems a perfect environment for this story to reach across America.

The dignity with which all of this is told and acted is its success. At the same time, it doesn't shy away from the culture of the Castro. Perhaps the greatest compliment is the rendering of Dan White here. He is neither demonized nor excused.

We also don't get a white-washed version of Harvey Milk. He's there on the screen with all his foibles and kinks. Although his humanism shines in Sean Penn's unsettlingly accurate portrayal. It was Milk's love of--and impatience with--the rest of us that makes him a legend. And that is center stage in this film.

What Van Sant gives us is both humbling and an inspiration.