His life changed history. His courage changed lives. Academy Award winner Sean Penn stars in this stirring celebration of Harvey Milk, a true man of the people. Based on the inspiring true story of the first openly gay m... more »an elected to major public office, this compelling film follows Milk?s powerful journey to inspire hope for equal rights during one of the least tolerant times in our nation?s history. With a stunning all-star cast, including Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsh, Diego Luna and James Franco, it?s the emotionally charged story that was proclaimed the Winner of The New York Film Critics Circle Best Picture Award!« less
Randal A. (Movieran) from SATELLITE BCH, FL Reviewed on 11/14/2010...
Sean Penn is an incredible actor.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
The Gay Struggle Personified
James Morris | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 02/11/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Gus Van Sant has always been an excellent if somewhat eclectic director. Although I have enjoyed his previous efforts, I was somewhat apprehensive when I heard he was undertaking a film biography of Harvey Milk. A gay figure of this importance, I thought, should be handled by someone a little more mainstream. Like many gay people, I am weary of gay-themed films that reach no one beyond a gay audience, and the message I would want to emerge from a film about Harvey Milk should be heard by everyone.
As if reading my mind, Mr. Van Sant has fashioned a film that is accessible to all, while approaching his subject with sharp focus and a singleness of purpose that is at once definitive and topical. A stunning achievement, MILK manages to make its point without ever being preachy or trite, while remaining as true to the facts as any film bio could ever hope to be.
The film opens with snippets of gay history that many young gay people, let alone a straight audience, may be shocked to discover. During the opening credits, a barrage of vintage film clips remind us that a scant 50 years ago, gay men, lesbians and transsexuals were subjected to violence, harassment, physical abuse, arrest and humiliation by the very people that most citizens look to for protection; i.e. the police and judicial authorities. The newsreel images of gay bar raids that open MILK project a surreal yet somehow eerily familiar atmosphere that seems to alternate between the bizarre and the barbaric. Many people today are not aware that, in the 1940's and 1950's, right here in the USA, gay people were arrested for simply patronizing a gay bar (newspaper headline: "Den of Perverts Busted"). Many of those arrested had their names and employers published in the morning paper (!), and often found themselves unemployed and unemployable, branded with the label of "deviate". It is this chilling fact of social injustice that clears the way for the film's swing into a very important piece of gay history.
Skillfully telling us the story of Milk's rise as a leader in the Castro Gay Community of San Francisco, Harvey Milk is seen throughout the film as a living, breathing flesh and blood person. Van Sant adroitly propels Sean Penn through a warts-and-all portrayal of a frail human being with an idealistic bent and a politician's savvy. As with any good film, it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern which is more impressive - the balance of a perfect cast and lovingly detailed direction weave their way through a seamless portrait of an important historical figure, yet we are somberly reminded that many people remember Harvey Milk solely for the "Twinkie" defense of his star-crossed killer. The end result is that gay audiences emerge from seeing this film with a sense of pride and purpose, while straight audiences leave with a better knowledge of who we (gay people) are, what we want, and what we are struggling for. By word of mouth I expected a thrilling cinematic experience; what I got was a surprisingly near-perfect motion picture and some of the best acting I've ever seen. I heartily recommend MILK to any straight person who wants to get a grasp on what the last 30 years of gay history were really all about, and any gay person who wants to feel good about themselves. MILK is a triumph. See it."
Timothy P. Scanlon | Hyattsville, MDUSA | 11/30/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Allow me to agree with at least one other reviewer that everyone should see this, especially those who think being gay is so far out of the mainstream that, as my father in law once said, "The Lord allowed AIDS to happen."
Harvey Milk. A man of whom I know little. I lived on the other side of the world when he died, in a city in which it was not unusual to run into eunuchs. I'd heard of him since, in reference to gayness, but never associated any importance to him. Then I saw that Sean Penn was playing Milk, so I told my spouse that we need to see it.
Milk, it seemed, lived a pretty conventional lifestyle, working for an insurance company in New York. According to the script, anyway, in 1970 he met a flame and they headed to the west coast. Despite local resistance, they set up shop in the Castro district of San Francisco (after "The Haight" had become riddled with crime, homelessness and the like). Milk then decided it was time to get politically active.
In this portion of the film, I thought for a while that I was going to suffer from motion sickness. The camera seemed to move quite rapidly, and cut from the scene they were shooting to a historical scene, and back. But I adjusted. And Milk lost the first election, then the second, then the third. That, believe it or not, didn't take too much time for the film to get across, except that Milk's lover, Scott (played by James Franco) left after he said he couldn't take another one. That's when the action started (!)
I'm not gay, and have never been terribly sympathetic to many of the gay causes. At least I never payed much attention to 'em. Yeah, I heard outrageous statements like I quoted above, but I just disregarded them. After this film, my spouse felt guilty that she didn't know much about the Milk case. I pointed out that she wasn't exposed to it much. Even to this day many of the gay "causes" aren't seen as so mainstream. They're seen as somewhat fringe. Some alleged "gay eccentricities" may have added to that exclusion, and I believe the film included that element. Indeed, that's why Harvey Milk decided to go to Orange County, CA, without his gay supporters, and debate State Senator Briggs, played by Dennis O'Hare, the proponent of Proposition 6, a gay rights provision to which gays were opposed, on his own terms. And it paid off! The proposition was defeated!
Throughout the film, Milk was reciting a testament into his tape recorder, to be played only if he were assasinated. I wish I knew whether Milk really did that or whether it was added to the film for "effect." Either way, it was the adhesive that kept the film together.
The historical clips also added to the film's credibility, especially those of Anita Bryant. After Bryant's success in some anti-gay initiatives around the country, Milk decided to bring her causes to the attention of the people of California, and that's where the Proposition 6 movement began.
There's so much I could say about the film. I don't want to cover anything of the murder case, as I'll give too much away. The acting was definitely Oscar material, especially for Sean Penn. The script and music were award-winning. But the reason I endorse it--especially for those most opposed to gay rights--is that it shows that those rights are no less constitutional or mainstream than the rights of blacks, women, or any other groups which have had to labor hard for the last 230 years!
Whether the film was timed to come out--no pun intended--after California's Proposition 8, I don't know. But it's well timed in terms of trying to educate people as to why those right should be guaranteed.
Today we have people like Keith Olbermann to editorialize on those who opposed Proposition 8. We can thank God for Harvey Milk, the "first openly gay" person in politics in the US, for having opened to doors for those contemporay editorials.
It's also, by the way, a testament to the cause of political activism in general; most activists find themselves in a rut deeper than that of Milk and his associates. This film may remind them to persist!
See this gem, and make sure those challenged by gay rights see it. Discuss it with them. Someday then we will be able to proclaim that "all men are created equal." "
A story that will teach tolerance
Brian Danker | San Francisco | 12/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie portrays a brave man.The movie "Milk" showed that any man who stands by his principles, will always leave a lesson to be learned.
The advances that the Gay communities of California have made in the past 30 years started with the Harvey Milk story.I have been a San Francisco Police officer for 24 years.I am proud to have known a few very brave S.F.P.D. officers who happen to have been gay.
In this state,the advances made for gay people for their civil rights and equal rights,begin with the Milk story.
I was in the movie and I played a real police officer at a homicide scene.The murder of Robert Hillsbough. The hates crimes committed against gays in this city back in the 1970's were over the top. I was honored to have, done my simple scene with Sean Penn.
I was honored to have been a member of that cast.Check out the cast on the web www.imdb.com
I know the damages that Dan White caused our city,and my Department. It was a very sad day.
I can say this much about that tragic man.Besides being a former cop, and fireman a little talked about fact about Dan White. He was also a Viet Nam veteran.He served in the same unit that I was in in Viet Nam, the 173rd airborne. He served one year in the central highlands. We came home suffering along with 1000'S of other combat vets, suffering from P.T.S.D. He committed suicide after his release from prison. He was buried with full honors in the Veteran cemetery in San Bruno Calif.
It was not called that at the time of his trail. The fact that a man who was an Irish Catholic, a former Police officer, and a Viet Nam vet who could not, and did not seek help.The movie kind of showed that Milk made every effort to befriend Dan White.How Dan White did not understand that he was responsible to do the right thing. The murder of those two innocent men makes me sad, to know that In my life I walked the same paths.
I think a lot of school teacher's will be able to add this movie to list of movies that teach tolerance.As a straight guy, I was honored to be in the movie.I wanted people to understand tolerance."
He's Here to Recruit You
Chris Pandolfi | Los Angeles, CA | 12/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At this point, I think it's safe to say that we can all depend on Sean Penn. What an amazingly versatile actor, gifted with the ability to transform himself into virtually anyone from virtually any background. Even the God-awful 2006 remake of "All the King's Men" was made better by his portrayal of Willie Stark. He shines once again in Gus Van Sant's "Milk," a film that chronicles the final years of Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to be elected into public office in California. Before his assassination in 1978, he managed to become a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and was the driving force behind a number of demonstrations that challenged many anti-gay initiatives. His story could not be more perfectly timed; I live in California, where, in the last election, a proposition to ban same-sex marriage (Prop 8) was put on the ballot. I'm sorry to say that it passed (although, as of the date of this writing, the ruling is being challenged in California's Supreme Court).
But social and political commentaries aren't the sum of the film's parts. "Milk" is a rich, enlightening character study, probing deeply into the minds of very different people. This brings me back to Sean Penn, who certainly had his work cut out for him as the title character. As an activist, Milk was such a unique personality--outrageous, bold, and even a bit theatrical, yet refreshingly earnest and straightforward at the same time. His beginnings, on the other hand, were much more conservative, and he kept it that way throughout most of his adult life. The story proper begins in 1970 on the eve of his fortieth birthday, at which point he's an insurance statistician in New York City. On the steps of a deserted subway station, he meets Scott Smith (James Franco). The two quickly become lovers, move to San Francisco, and open a camera shop in the Castro district.
And yet, something is missing for Milk. "I'm forty years old," he observes, "and I haven't done a thing I'm proud of." Tired of guarding his sexuality and sick of the way law enforcement has been handling hate crimes, he soon establishes himself as a community activist, advocating equality for all. It isn't long before his political ambitions grow, and by 1975, he was ready to cut his hair, abstain from marijuana, and seriously pursue a position in city government. Three all-consuming, unsuccessful campaigns drive a wedge between Milk and Smith; by the time Milk is finally elected as a representative for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, their relationship cools to a mere friendship. At this point, Milk has recruited Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), a young activist, and Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill), a lesbian campaign manager. They do whatever they can to rally supporters, especially now that Milk is trying to pass a city ordinance that would protect people--many of them teachers--from being fired because of their sexual orientation. He faces an uphill battle with the Christian Right, specifically Senator John Briggs (Denis O'Hare) and singer/former orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant (seen only in actual archival news footage).
He faces a battle of a different kind with Dan White (Josh Brolin), a Board Supervisor Milk suspects of being a closeted homosexual, despite his staunch anti-gay stance. Indeed, there's something both odd and desperate about White's behavior towards Milk, inviting him to his son's christening, showing up at Milk's birthday party drunk and shouting that he's got issues too. As White grows more and more resentful of Milk and his inner circle of political allies--specifically Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garbor)--we see less of a political figure and more of a man on the brink of emotional collapse.
There's a fascinating association between the film's political message and Van Sant's cinematic creativity. A few select moments are true narrative masterstrokes, and they each involve quiet yet profound reflections in shiny objects. One of the earliest takes place early in Milk's political career, at which point gays in San Francisco were issued whistles; when Milk arrives at the crime scene of a murdered young man, his conversation with a police officer is shown entirely as a reflection off of a blood stained whistle. Another moment takes place much later on in White's living room, after Milk had established himself as a prominent politician. White's television set displays Milk in the middle of a news interview; we see White's reflection in the bottom left corner of the screen, and while we don't know what he's thinking, we do know that he's interested in what Milk is saying.
One of the most striking subplots involves Milk and his new lover, Jack Lira (Diego Luna), who quickly proves that he's ill-equipped to handle Milk's rising political clout. He's painfully insecure, and it only gets worse as Milk's schedule goes from heavy to full. Lira clings to Milk like a frightened animal, which is understandable but also pathetic. The real sorrow comes from the fact that Milk was too busy fighting a good fight to take any notice. What if he didn't have anything to fight against? What if there was no discrimination? "Milk" will no doubt inspire many people, but it's also likely to infuriate many others. If you're like me, then you might feel a little bit of both. Why are we still at a point where equality has to be fought for? Are we not in the twenty-first century? Shouldn't we have gotten over this issue a long time ago? It's sad to leave a movie theater and realize that not much has changed in thirty years."
Watered down 'milk'
Darryl K. Clark | springfield, missouri | 04/12/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"i may be alone in my thoughts on this film. but before i get going, i want to say that i throughly enjoyed sean penn's work in this film. this performance is so thoroughly worked out and lived that it wipes out 'shanghai surprise'.
that said, i do not understand any praise given to gus van sant for doing the obvious. he has to be one of the most unimaginative directors in hollywood. and i feel the same way about the screenplay. when a film biography starts off flashing back, what's the point? why even try to tell a story, build climaxes? it's being done way too much and it's the easy way out. not to mention that the screenplay omits so much crucial information about the milk-moscone assasinations and just about anybody of color that may have been around the castro in the late 1960s and 1970s. the man that harvey kept calling 'tiger lily' (which wasn't funny after one time) and sylvester at the party just wasn't good enough.
if only the work had delved in to milk's failings more incisively besides some half-uttered remarks of self-awareness, if only he hadn't been portrayed as super-human because we know he wasn't and if only dan white's character had been portrayed with more impartiality. i'm surprised josh brolin got as much out of the man as written as he did.
the best thing about this film is that i want to see the documentary about harvey milk again. i hope that it will be made readily available so that those not so well-informed will have something more tangible and rich to think about when they think about harvey milk."