Milk (2008) Poster

(I) (2008)

User Reviews

Add a Review
294 Reviews
Sort by:
Sean Penn delivers one of the top performances in the decade!
Kristine22 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I saw Milk a while back, I was really looking forward to it because I had written a paper in my history class on Harvey Milk. We were learning about movements in the 60's and 70's, as a straight female, I saw one of my friends struggling with his sexuality and how hard it was for society, his friends, his own family excepting him for who he was. I wanted to find out more on the history of how we had either moved forward or backwards when it came to rights for homosexuals. Reading Harvey Milk's story was sad but extremely inspirational and looking at what people said about him, he seemed like the most lovable guy in the world. He was funny, charming, and just a wonderful person to be around, it was extremely sad to find out how his life ended and over something so stupid. Milk is one of the best films of 2008, it was made with great taste and Sean Penn delivers the performance of a lifetime playing the infamous Harvey Milk.

Unsatisfied with his life and in need of a change, Harvey Milk decides to move to San Francisco with his boyfriend in hoping of a better acceptance. They open Castro Camera in the heart of Eureka Valley, a working class neighborhood in the process of evolving into a predominantly gay neighborhood known as The Castro. Frustrated by the opposition they encounter in the once Irish-Catholic neighborhood, Milk utilizes his background as a businessman to become a gay activist, eventually becoming a mentor for Cleve Jones. After two unsuccessful political campaigns in 1973 and 1975 to become a city supervisor and a third in 1976 for the California State Assembly, Milk finally wins a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 for District 5. His victory makes him the first openly gay man to be voted into major public office in the United States. Milk subsequently meets fellow Supervisor Dan White, a Vietnam veteran and former police officer and firefighter. White, who is politically and socially conservative, has a difficult relationship with Milk. He has a growing resentment for Milk, largely due to the attention paid to Milk by the press and his colleagues. After working tirelessly against Proposition 6, Milk and his supporters rejoice in the wake of its defeat. The increasingly unstable White is in favor of a supervisor pay raise, but does not get much support, and shortly after supporting the proposition, resigns from the board. He later changes his mind and asks the city to rescind his decision. Mayor Moscone denies his request, after having been lobbied by Milk to not reinstate White, leading to some disturbing acts of violence.

I HIGHLY recommend that you watch Milk, this film was extremely moving and really makes you think before you say something stupid because someone else is different from you, not just sexually, but in general. It really breaks your heart to see how hard it must be for people who are different to express themselves and to be rejected by society. Sean plays Harvey with the love and compassion that the real Harvey would respect. We also have some terrific supporting actors: James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and Victor Garber. Milk was one of the best films of 2008, watch it, learn from it, and remember: do onto others as you would do onto yourself.

74 out of 85 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
"I'm 40 and I haven't done anything"
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!
277 out of 342 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Sweet And Powerful Milk
marcosaguado2 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
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!
230 out of 285 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Great Actors and a Great Filmmaker at the service of a Great Story
M. J Arocena4 November 2008
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.
257 out of 320 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Everything comes together in this one
Doug-19318 November 2008
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.
173 out of 239 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
'All Men Are Created Equal. No Matter How Hard You Try, You Can Never Erase Those Words'.
Chrysanthepop11 March 2009
The last Gus Van Sant movie I saw was 'Elephant', a film that did not work for me. Thankfully he is back with 'Milk' which pretty much gives a detailed account of the rise of Harvey Milk and his martyrdom. Van Sant uses live footage between scenes which reminds one of how much harsher the world once was to people who were 'different'. The writing is stupendous and the dialogues are especially effective. The portrayal of the characters are very human. There is no hero or villain. There are just humans with flaws, humans fighting for what they believe in. Van Sant sets a tense and chaotic tone right from the beginning. The 70s atmosphere is well created through makeup and costumes. The use of brownish tinted light may arise nostalgia. It is two remarkable performances that make 'Milk' stand out: Sean Penn's very accurate and nuanced portrayal of Harvey Milk and Josh Brolin's layered portrayal of a complex Dan White. I doubt 'Milk' would have been effective enough if it weren't for such strong acting. The director deserves mention for his brilliant work. Movies like 'Milk' are relevant today because they serve as a reminder of how difficult life once was and how people fought against it and lives were sacrificed in order to create a better society for those living in today's world.
36 out of 45 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Van Sant delivers a great marriage of art and history
greg-25315 November 2008
Just caught the Portland premiere and have a few thoughts.

Very thankful this film was made. Until now, it seemed like I was fairly alone in knowing about Harvey's legacy. After "Milk" starts getting attention....I hope that a whole new generation will come to know the Mayor of Castro Street (see Randy Shilt's book) and the importance of the gay rights movement.

That being said, Van Sant's "Milk" is great marriage of art and history. Instead of a dry portrait of an assasinated leader, we get a beautifully rendered flavor of the times, and an intimate vision of a man finding his place within a community and history.

Casting is brilliant. Penn inhabits Harvey Milk in a way that few actors I believe would be capable. His physicality and energy is very believable - and it's easy to forget what actor you're watching. After a's just Harvey. I could go on about the supporting cast...all very solid in their own way. James Franco (Scotty) stands out as well....showing his range and willingness to expand as an actor.

Kudos all the way around...I see this film getting several nods at Oscar time.

Additionally...Rob Epstein's Oscar-winning 1984 documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" is a definite must for anyone who enjoyed this film. I watched it right after "Milk" - and am still impressed with how affecting it is.
99 out of 135 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
"I am not a candidate, I am part of a movement. The movement is the candidate."
ametaphysicalshark15 December 2008
"Milk" sees Gus Van Sant return to the mainstream after nearly a decade of divisive 'arthouse' films, a spell he might have felt was necessary after directing "Psycho" and "Finding Forrester" back to back. The stunning, beautiful "Gerry" is still his greatest film in my estimation, but Van Sant's return to near-unanimous mainstream acclaim and some level of box-office success in "Milk" actually isn't too far off as far as Van Sant's filmography goes. Some may express disappointment that "Milk" is a 'conventional' biopic, but it really isn't conventional at all. True, this could have been the sort of melancholy meditation Van Sant has been going for in recent years, but the best argument against that is that Harvey Milk is not that figure. He's not going to sit quietly and contemplate life. Perhaps he might have before we meet him on the eve of his fortieth birthday, but from that point onwards Harvey Milk was a man of action, of words, a man with the powerful ability to rally people for a cause, and not only gay people. He had a rare sort of energy, and an energetic film was needed to tell his story. Most impressive perhaps about Van Sant's direction and Dustin Lance Black's screenplay is that there are just as many of those melancholic, meditative moments as needed, just enough to make this a compelling character study and not a truly conventional biopic with a hero rather than a main character. The photography here is also simply gorgeous, and the camera work is outstanding, particularly the hand-held work during the rally scenes. It really succeeds in transporting you to 1970's San Francisco. Sean Penn has frequently annoyed me. I respect his abilities, but reserve the right to express my subjective annoyance at what I perceive as sometimes hilarious over-acting. When I found out that he was going to play Harvey Milk I was nervous, since I have admired Harvey Milk ever since I was first exposed to him through the Rob Epstein documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk", which is still the best movie made about Harvey Milk, with "Milk" running a close second, and I doubt Bryan Singer's "Mayor of Castro Street" will be a serious contender. I had no reason to be nervous. Penn's performance is one of the most vibrant, fascinating, brilliant performances in years, and one of the most convincing and human. It's not a Harvey Milk impression, it's more than just that, but he truly does capture the 'essence' of Milk, if you will. It is pointless to make a political statement in the body of this review, so take this as one only if you have to: it is disgusting that in 2008 gay rights still a matter of political debate. This film is a powerful, beautiful tribute to the rights movement. It's not a Democrats vs. Republicans film. In fact, it makes it clear that Harvey Milk was once a Republican, and sneaks in footage of Reagan in strong opposition of Proposition 6. Those short scenes should provoke some thought and discussion. They certainly did for me and the people I saw the film with. Ultimately however the film is not about an 'issue'. Harvey Milk says to Dan White that it's not about jobs or rights, that it's their lives that they were and still are fighting for. Ultimately this film is about people, not about issues, not about policy. It's about people who were told they were sick, who were told they were wrong, who were told they would corrupt society, who were accused of being pedophiles and attempting to 'recruit' children to homosexuality. The film is about Harvey Milk, a mere human being who did more for freedom and tolerance than he probably ever understood. "I am not a candidate, I am part of a movement. The movement is the candidate." Unfortunately, the fight against the rampant discrimination against and hatred of homosexuals is still not over. Milk's movement lives on, and grows stronger every day. He would be proud of that, and devastated that our society has not truly progressed, but only learned to mask its intolerance and hatred.
124 out of 172 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A chronicle of history
Michael Fargo28 November 2008
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.
120 out of 168 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Moral, ethical, honestly Christian
Mihnea the Pitbull24 February 2009
I never vibrated together with Van Sant, but this time I must say he convinced me.

The main merit of "Milk" is that it conveys A MORAL PRINCIPLE - in an extraordinarily powerful, and stylish too, way. Or, as it's also stated: "What matters is the fight, more than the outcome!" The script, very dense and well organized, follows the fastidious steps of building up a message, at the same time respecting the ingrate historic chronology - the perpetual dilemma of the docudrama. All around this structure, the direction skilfully grows-up the flesh of the human content, social layers and ethical matters. It turns out a definite lesson of movie-making, for all to see and learn.

I should also add that my country, Romania, is just passing through the historical stage that "Milk" is depicting: pushing homophobia into obsolescence and reaching normality. As such, initially our rating commission came with a positively ludicrous decision: banning "Milk" for the 18- audiences, because (hear this, as a pearl of idiocy!) "It makes propaganda for a certain sexual orientation!" I gave them a piece of my mind, in my own review, pointing out that the movie only MAKES PROPAGANDA FOR MORALS, so it should be recommended to ALL AGES AUDIENCES, no matter how young! In the end, after an official complain, they relented and lowered the rating to "not recommended to under-15". Still silly, but one can't have it all, can we? Thank God, audiences who don't care about this movie will ignore it, and those who do, will see it nonetheless. And become better human beings.
94 out of 138 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Moving and inspiring
gatraylor15 November 2008
I saw this last night at the Portland premiere with Gus Van Sant and James Franco among others. This is a powerful work and, in my opinion, Gus Van Sant has taken a big step towards the mainstream in his artistic direction. To me, the person who is by no means a movie expert, it seems that this movie had a much faster, accessible pace than his other movies. There were no long-shots or minutes at a time without dialog, etc.

I've really never thought much of Sean Penn before, but, with this role, I expect him to sweep up the awards. Everyone was great in their parts, but he did such an excellent job in portraying the Harvey Milk that I have seen before in clips and documentaries. They did not make out Milk to be a choir-boy, which was one thing I was afraid was going to happen. This story seems long overdue in it's telling, but so completely relevant to today's news.

I expect, as the movie hits theaters, this will cause quite a stir, with both sides using it as fodder in their fight. I expect the ratings will reflect this as there are already people giving it 0's who obviously did not attend the premiere. I don't think it deserves a 10 either, but is much, much closer to that end. Looked at objectively, it is a sometimes tearful, sometimes funny movie that was put together masterfully
84 out of 128 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Great man, Great film, Great performance by Sean Penn
pyotr-328 November 2008
"Milk" is the best film of 2008, hands down. Anyone unfamiliar with the story of Harvey Milk and his murder needs to know it. Those of us who have already read a ton of books and articles about Harvey Milk, and seen the award-winning documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" will find a side of Harvey we had not seen before in this movie so the film really is a must-see whoever you are.

The performances by the entire cast are perfection... a notch better than even the best of films. I believe this is due to the story of Harvey Milk, who inspired so many of us and changed the lives of millions of us for the better. Harvey himself surely inspired these great performances. Once you have seen Harvey's smile, and heard Harvey's words, and seen Harvey in action (as we all can do by watching "The Times of Harvey Milk" documentary) you can never see the world the same way again.

Sean Penn's performance as Harvey could not be bettered by any actor living today, so we owe him a great debt for making this movie, and giving his heart and soul to the role. I believe it is Penn's most mature yet also most lovable role ever. I wanted the movie to go on and on, because I felt like I was actually there in San Francisco in 1978-79. Gus Van Sant recreated that world perfectly, and Sean Penn showed us the potential of this very real man with this unique ability to inspire and transform us. Gus and Sean have each earned a very special chamber in Heaven for giving us this beautiful tribute.
74 out of 115 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Gus Van Sant pays his dues
Chris Knipp30 November 2008
'Milk' is another powerful mainstream American movie about gay experience. It seems destined to have the same kind of influence on the public mind as Jonathan Demme's 'Philadelphia' and Ang Lee's 'Brokeback Mountain,' both of which were prominent at Oscar time. Like them this isn't a great film but it's an important one.

In 'Milk' the topic widens to gay politics and gay rights. "These are not 'issues,'" Harvey Milk tells a major opponent, "these are our lives we're fighting for. " His own life peaked at a transformative place and time for homosexuals, San Francisco in the 1970's. A San Francisco Supervisor assassinated by the disgruntled conservative Supervisor Dan White in 1978, Milk was the first openly gay man to elected to public office in California. He was a gay activist who gained fame and political clout. "A homosexual with power--that's scary," Milk tells Mayor Moscone--an ally with whom he sparred, and who was assassinated with him.

If he hadn't been killed early in his political career Milk might have traded his jocular title of "Mayor of Castro Street" (the city's predominantly gay district) for the formal one of Mayor of San Francisco. Dan White himself predicted this.

While Milk sought the whole city's attention with a seemingly trivial cause--a "pooper scooper" law forcing citizens to clean up after their dogs, he has come to represent a profile in courage--a man willing to face up to Orange County bigots on their own turf, who insisted all gays must come out of the closet to unite in strength. The film doesn't idealize the man; his private life is obviously messy, and despite his preaching, he was in the closet to his own parents. His lover leaves him, and a new Latino boyfriend (Diego Luna) is totally unstable.

Every gay advance seems to bring on a backlash. After the 1969 Stonewall Riots (alluded to in news footage as Milk opens) more gay men and lesbians were out and proud, but Anita Bryant, the Florida orange juice advertiser and right-wing Christian gay basher, was on the rampage campaigning for measures all over the country to remove gay rights. In California in 1978 one of her many causes was the Briggs Initiative, Proposition 6, which would have mandated firing all the state's gay teachers.

Today, while the election of an African-American as President makes the US look more friendly toward minorities, anti-gay measures are still on ballots in many states at election times. On the same day that Obama was elected, Californian gay people saw the passage of Proposition 8, put over by Mormon money, to outlaw gay marriage in the state.

Leaving behind the hermetic, personal wavelength of his best film 'My Own Private Idaho' and the stylized elegance of his recent quartet of films, Van Sant returns to a conventional mode closer to his 'Good Will Hunting' and 'Finding Forrester'--but this time with more scope and more commitment to taking a stand as a gay man with a wide audience. The writer for the film was the former Mormon Justin Lance Black, writer for several gay-related films and the TV series about a polygamist Mormon, "Big Love." Harvey Milk (a nicely modulated Sean Penn) first appears recording a tape testament in his final year of life, a scene that bookends the film. Penn's noted for emotionally overwrought roles but his Harvey Milk is someone who rarely loses his cool or his sense of humor even when he meets the hostile Briggs or regularly has to deal with his clueless, inept opponent Dan White (a fine Josh Brolin). Milk mocked the right-wingers' fiction that homosexuals are pedophiles who want to proselytize youth--that gays are made not born--by opening public addresses with, "My name is Harvey Milk and I want to recruit you." It's a line often repeated in the film.

The movie, as is the way with conventional biopics, paints its subject's life in broad strokes. He meets his young lover Scott Smith (an appealing James Franco) while a corporate drone in New York. They decide to start a new life in San Francisco, and open a camera shop together on Castro Street. Before long Milk is in the thick of political activity, talking to Teamsters and cutting off his beard and pony tail and donning suit and tie to meet the general public.

Milk emerges as a true politician. Moscone compares him to Boss Tweed. Through leading a successful boycott of Coors beer for the Teamsters, he forges strong links with labor. Scenes are crowded with political coworkers, and resident cute boys.

Most of all the movie is a picture of community organizing and campaign management. This is told in broad stroke too, but there are many historically specific personalities. Milk ran for office many times before redistricting made a clear win possible. Scotty is his manager, till he can't bear another losing campaign and moves out. Next Milk "recruits" a cocky young runaway and street hustler, Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), who claims he can get a thousand gay men on the street on demand and also boasts "I don't do losing." With his new well-connected lesbian campaign manager Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill) he secures endorsements from the Bay Guardian and the Chronicle, and he wins handily.

It's unusual for a mainstream film to get so much into the practical details of local politics. At the same time Jack is jealous of Scott and Cleve and moving toward a meltdown, and Dan White, having his own more dangerous meltdown, is waiting in the wings.

As a San Franciscan I wish the atmosphere of the tragic finale had been properly amplified by a horrified awareness of the Jim Jones massacre, the news of which had emerged barely a week before White shot Moscone and Milk. But otherwise this stands as an essential piece of gay and California history and Van Sant's fluent, lively film couldn't come at a better time.
49 out of 76 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
"Its not about winning, its about making a statement."
alexkolokotronis2 January 2009
Well I'm not sure if this movie will win anything but it certainly made a statement. Milk is about the first openly gay person, Harvey Milk, to be elected to office in America. Milk does a great job in putting face to the gay rights movement which is sorely needed.

The acting was superb by the cast all around starting at the top with Sean Penn. As the film wore on Sean Penn became Harvey Milk. It was not just a portrayal he gave, it was a complete absorption of the man himself. Penn gave a very smart, witty and inspiring performance which carried the film throughout. Josh Brolin gave a very convincing supporting performance as Dan White who is one of Harvey Milk's colleagues. The depth that Brolin gave to his portrayal raised some questions about who Dan White really is. If in fact he is a good man or a bad man, if he is corrupt or honorable or even if he is straight or homosexual. Brolin once again proves to be one of the most overlooked actors in these past few years. Emile Hirsch always lights up the screen and continues to do so in here. James Franco though was quite a surprise to watch. I usually can't stand to watch Franco in any type of role but he proved that he can take on serious roles. This movie might be the statement Franco needed to make.

The writing and directing was very solid overall allowing a greatly assembled cast to shine in so many aspects and ways. What was done in such a great way was the editing. Specifically the editing of archival footage into the movie. Most of the time I find it a bit distracting or annoying when archival footage is used but in here it was a strength. It was perfectly implemented into the movie giving the feeling that you could take the movie more seriously as a telling of a true story rather than just a movie.

Milk was certainly one of the best of 2008 but we will have to see if it can stand the test of time. It made a pretty nice statement but can it win enough hearts and minds to support the gay rights movement like Harvey Milk would have wanted?
18 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Life Begins At 40
bkoganbing14 December 2008
I remember back in 1978 when I heard about the assassinations in San Francisco. The screaming headlines read Mayor Moscone Murdered on the tabloid News and Post in New York. You read the article and it said that a San Francisco City Supervisor named Harvey Milk was also killed by another supervisor Dan White.

What I didn't know was how much Harvey Milk reflected my own life. A former Goldwater Republican and closeted gay man, he moved to San Francisco and affected a revolution. That was me and three years later I came out and started doing my own thing for the same righteous cause, Milk gave his life for.

Milk was not the first openly gay person elected to public office. Elaine Noble and Allan Spears were serving in state legislatures when Milk finally was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Milk was not a single elected official in a large body of legislators. He became the focus of stopping a rollback of our rights that the newly empowered religious right was seeking to do and God help us, still seeks to do.

San Francisco no longer is THE gay city as it was in Harvey Milk's last eight years of his life. So many places now have GLBT rights laws, so many have created their own gay culture and network. Still all of us owe so much to Harvey Milk and his circle who would not back down.

A few days ago I saw Sean Penn in Bad Boys and to see him 25 years later as Harvey Milk, it's hard to believe the breadth of work that he's done as a player. There's a nomination in this for Best Actor and maybe a second one to go with the one Penn won for Dead Man Walking. You are so taken with his performance that you forget and think you're watching a hidden newsreel of the life of Harvey Milk.

Josh Brolin might very well bring home an Oscar for the uptight Dan White, the assassin. What's extraordinary about Brolin's performance is that White is such an ordinary man, trapped with a set of values that taught him to despise anything different than him. There's some suggestion that White was a latent case and that might have been the ultimate reason for his terrible acts. I've seen that happen often enough in my life.

In my working days before retirement in 2002 I was the only openly gay person at the New York State Crime Victims Board working there and still am, sad to say. Harvey Milk was brought to political activism by someone he knew being targeted for hate crime homicide which was never solved. In the more enlightened times of the Eighties and Nineties these things still go too often unpunished. Like Harvey these incidents were my reason for involvement.

Watching Milk and inner circle many of whom went on to do great things in the Gay Rights movement, I envied them. I certainly put my years in, still do. But I would have given anything to have been involved from the beginning. They have tragic memories, but also wonderful stories to tell about a cause bigger than themselves.

And for that reason this review of this wonderful film is dedicated to a gay rights pioneer whom I knew and who recently passed away. Eleanor Cooper did her activism as an emigrant from Tennessee. She dedicated her life to making the world better for her GLBT brothers and sisters for more than 30 years in New York City. She was a prime leader in the passage of New York City's gay rights law. She was unflagging optimist and never lost faith that with education and reason people would get it about us. Her optimism was infectious, buoyed many a spirit in bad times, political and personal.

Harvey Milk said that he had not really done anything he was truly proud of at the age of 40 just before moving from New York to San Francisco. If he did nothing else he gave hope and encouragement to untold numbers of young gay people that you're not worthless, that you had a mission on this earth to make the best life you can for yourself and for your brothers and sisters. The best scene in the film is Milk talking to a young kid from Minnesota who was contemplating suicide and who might very well have done it as too many have.

The young man's name was Paul. And this review and this film is and should also be dedicated to all the Pauls and Paulas out there who are not going to accept a second class life from ignorant people. Not any place on this globe.
16 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Eye opening and heart breaking regardless of age or sexual preference
cwood060927 December 2008
Born and raised in a southern, catholic community, I saw that homosexuals were always grouped with prostitutes and rapists in our religion books. Something didn't quite sit right with me when I saw this ever since I was very young. The anti gay feelings abound in a small southern city, and, although I myself am straight, I was always in the minority of gay right supporters.

Van Sant's Milk could not have come at a better time in my life. This movie is a transcendent bio pic, and an inspiration to me now and forever. In my theater, a packed crowd with an average age of about 60 gathered. (I found this interesting, why so many seniors? Was it guilt?) The film exceeds both as a touching biography and a bold social statement. Van Sant really does what Alfred Hitchcock so famously did, and "played the audience like a piano". We laughed, we thought, and came out of the theater a little bit more in tune with reality. I was the youngest in the theater by about 40 years, so I saw from an outside looking in at what this film really did.

So much has been said about how well made the film is that anything else would be redundant, but the praise is well deserved. Penn should be a top runner for Best Actor, as he completely disappears into his character. Another actor that was an absolute thrill to watch in this movie was Emile Hirsch, who was fantastic.

So emotionally wrenching, it will stand the test of time. It is so powerful because everyone knows someone that's gay and someone that's a bigot. The best movie of the year I've seen.
11 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Yet another bland biopic
nehpetstephen16 December 2008
Milk isn't a terrible movie--it's not even a bad movie--but it's nowhere near the level of gay masterpiece I hoped it would be. It's a conventional, unambiguous rallying cry with no real impact.

Gus Van Sant has done some very original, highly stylized, downright weird films in the past decade. My Own Private Idaho was Shakespeare's world populated by gay prostitutes, with still life sex scenes and split screens and over-the-top dialogue; Psycho was a more surreal (and more scandalous) shot-for-shot replay of the Hitchcock original; Elephant was a hyper-realistic photograph of teenage violence starring no-name high school actors; and so on. His most conventional film was Good Will Hunting, but that at least was moving and had momentum, as well as a terrific soundtrack. Milk is just plain standard. Each character--though based on real people--can be summed up in a simple sentence, such as Emile Hirsch's Cleve Jones, the tenacious queer who... well, I don't even need a full sentence. That's about it.

Sean Penn is convincing and sweet as the 40-year-old New York insurance man who realizes how boring his life is and decides to head west and make an impact. He seems to settle on a life of gay political activism simply because it's the most convenient; the attention, the theatrics, and the social bonding seem almost as important--if not more so--than the actual revolution.

Which is an interesting idea, but not one that the movie really allows you to dwell on. Milk, with its fast-paced biopic structure (here's one important event... then here's another one a year later... then a close friend dies... and then there's a small triumph... and then...) and its attention to political activism, wants to be a cry for equality, not a complex, ambiguous character study. Harvey is reduced to the role of hero, champion, martyr. You're not allowed to be skeptical of his background, his relationships, his motivation, his manipulative methods. You know he's the good guy because he's on the side of equality--the ends justify the means and all that--and so you have to root for him, and that's that.

But I don't enjoy that. I like rooting for villains. I like feeling sorry for the assholes. I like believing, even for just one turbulent moment, that what the psycho killer is saying makes perfect sense. And I can't stand a flawless hero. I can't stand being forced to side with someone.

And as for Harvey Milk as portrayed in this film--well, he just wasn't that inspirational. Look, I'm queer and I'm liberal and all of that. It's a subject that's very close to me. Plus, I'm a sucker for inspiration, and I cry several times a year in movie theaters. But his speeches and his rallies never made me feel anything other than mildly interested on an intellectual level. The bad direction is part of that--the cinematography choices were dreadful, with very little camera-work standing out as exceptional. With each march and protest, a still camera looks head-on at the faces of the few stars as they march forward. Why? If we're supposed to be immersed in the riot, to feel like we're a part of it, why would be facing the rioters? Why would we be so still? Why not throw the camera into the action, shakily following behind the other marchers? But there's none of that.

Maybe Van Sant was trying to prove that gay people are just as normal and boring as straight people, that their inspirational biopics can be just as color-by-numbers and boring as straight biopics. But who wants to see that? Harvey was loud--"My name is Harvey Milk, and I'm here to recruit you!"--Harvey was theatrical. The gay movement at that time loved to shout out loud. So why such a stifling story?

There's only one aspect of the film that's interesting, and that's the relationship between Harvey Milk and Dan White (Josh Brolin, in a fine performance), the straight-laced police officer and political rival. Their awkward dance is compelling--Dan "the man" tries to please and work with, however distantly, his minority colleague, while Harvey desires only to destroy the competitor who represents everything he detests and opposes. Dan keeps promises that Harvey breaks. Dan drunkenly stumbles in the shadows of his fading conservative beliefs--beliefs he doesn't even necessarily understand or trust anymore--while Harvey milks up the limelight. It's a sad and scary battle of wits, and one that paints a dark, political tinge on the otherwise spotless Harvey, but the theme is confined to a few short scenes and left largely unexplored.

As a movie focusing strictly on Dan vs. Harvey, this could have been a good film, but by expanding this into an eight-year-long historical examination of how great San Francisco is and how wonderful and downtrodden gay people always are, the movie strays into the realm of simple, sweeping statements. I'm disappointed by how much critical acclaim this film is getting; aside from Penn and Brolin it's rather lackluster.

Milk d: Gus Van Sant w: Dustin Lance Black (Sean Penn, Josh Brolin) 6/10
32 out of 57 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Phenomenal, a must see for all!!!
calebcox17 December 2008
I watched this film last night and it had me in tears. If you don't know the story of Harvey Milk, then you really should. I had never heard of him until this film and I don't know why I hadn't. I'm not gay and feel quite uncomfortable watching other guys kissing, but have nothing against homosexuality. I didn't feel uncomfortable at all throughout this film and it really left me feeling very sympathetic for the gay community, and anyone who is persecuted for being different. Sean Penn delivers the most outstanding performance i have seen him deliver in ages, it should definitely warrant an Oscar! James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirch and Diego Luna also showing their brilliance. All the actors were incredible and to think that none of them (that i know of) are actually gay. It must take some serious ability to pull that one off so believably. Maybe I just don't have a gaydar and can't see it, so could someone who is gay let me know what he thought of their performance. Anyway, there is a lot to learn from this film, it shocks me to think this happened only a generation ago and we were all such an unaccepting bunch of idiots back then. However, it tells the entire story from an unbiased view. All the homophobes and 'bad guys' aren't just displayed as bad people, but always come across as being human, albeit ignorant, you can't blame someone for their ignorance. Gus Van Sant's direction as usual was fantastic, some very innovative and clever shots, and by using an old school camera through many parts of the film, could blend real historical footage and modern film seamlessly. One of the best films I have seen all year! I hope it does well and wins multiple awards, it definitely deserves it! Enjoy this film, it has really touched me.
9 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Not to be missed, whatever your persuasion
Chris_Docker19 December 2008
I very nearly gave this movie a miss. I'm pleased I didn't.

As with the gay-themed Brokeback Mountain, many might have stayed away till they realised it was more of a movie than that. Milk is a biopic of the murdered gay rights activist, Harvey Milk. But it connects to the audience by being symbolically about everyone, every minority, anybody who has ever been bullied or ashamed to admit their beliefs. It's about the human spirit. The rights of man enshrined in the American Constitution. And it's about the compassion that lets us see our enemies as human beings.

Part of this is down to an outstanding script. But much is down to Sean Penn (at times almost unrecognisable in a beard), who handles the role with a winning combination of grit and sensitivity. He becomes the master orator standing for political office. There are characters in his life that have committed suicide because of the shame of being gay. He is the first openly gay man to hold public office and he gives people hope (in much the same way, it may be said, that the similarly charismatic Barak Obama is doing for black people). We see poignant comparisons with Nazi pogroms against anyone who was 'different'. We see the fervent religious right, claiming God on their side, as they preach a message of hate.

Righteous hatred is not dead in America. A few hours before seeing Milk, I had watched a horrific documentary about a family of preachers who picket not only 'faggots' but anyone they believe tacitly supports homosexuality (the footage included picketing a dead serviceman's funeral). We have laws against inciting racial hatred. How can they get away with inciting such homophobia? Milk goes back to the 70's. Politicians opposing him label homosexuals with prostitutes and thieves. Deny them any rights. An argument worth pursuing philosophically perhaps, especially as Gordon Brown's UK government is currently trying to demonise prostitution. A thief breaks the laws of property. But homosexuals – and prostitutes for that matter – offend only those whose totalitarian view of the world wish to discriminate against those who, privately and without hurting others, have the audacity to live differently. Common tactics include linking crime by association. And with prostitution there is some evidence of links to crime, although it may be linked more to marginalisation – and prostitutes could always, at least theoretically, become non-prostitutes. Homosexuality, like being black or Jewish, cannot be 'treated.' Gays can rarely, if ever, 'become straight.' And neither is sexual preference an indicator of criminal tendency.

Milk takes his arguments to the most hostile of audiences. He debates with remarkable skill. But, although people warm to him for his courage and kindness, his personal life frequently sinks into tatters. Being second fiddle to a political crusader is no joyride. Even if you were straight. Campaign-trail Harvey might be fighting for your life in broad terms, but it won't help you through that long night of dinners for one.

Milk admirably avoids the mistake of glossing over common faults of the gay community – notably male aversion (at the time) to lesbians. In a hilarious scene where Harvey hires a lesbian campaign manager, the all-male entourage dissolves into ridiculous girly twittering against her – until, with a few well-chosen words, she proves she's got, 'bigger balls than anyone in the room'. Harvey slowly expands his cause. He realises it can't be just about gay rights. It has to be about everyone's rights. If elected, he has to show genuine concern for everyone's troubles – not just gays. And, after a few political near-slips where he is tempted to cut a deal, he welds himself to a virtuousness in public office that his opponents can only hypocritically claim but not deliver.

We know in the first few moments that he is going to die. The rest of the film is told in flashback. Penn, an actor that is occasionally too intense for my liking, has found a film where he can throw every muscle twitch, every watery eye, every shade of emotion, into a character and cause where intensity is called for. In one of the finest performances of his career, he is understated to convey finer feeling, yet passionate on the soap box to an inspirational degree.

I was also very pleased to see this praiseworthy development from director Gus Van Sant. Many 'indie' directors start off with great 'artistic' work, only to be eaten up by Hollywood glitz. Van Sant's career is almost the opposite. Having proved his metal with crowd-pleasers like To Die For and Good Will Hunting, he seems gradually to have abandoned all pretensions to mainstream. His Paranoid Park was a masterstroke of subtle evocation in the thriller genre. With Milk, he has applied his skills like a great craftsman, reclaiming self-respect for the serious yet accessible artist.

The one nagging criticism of course is, where are all the gay actors? I cannot fault Sean Penn's acting. He is undoubtedly the best actor for the part. But the very message of equality proclaimed so loudly by Hollywood's darling liberal left is still unheeded within their own industry. How many openly gay actors can you name? I thought so . . . And how far have we really got, really, or has apathy set in? As California bans gay marriage, one commentator noted, "Where were today's Harvey Milks when Proposition 8 was on the ballot?"
10 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A perfect movie
orangeisthenewawesome7 December 2008
I cannot think of one bad thing to say about this movie (well, maybe it was a teeny bit too long). OK, now that THAT'S out of the way, let me just say I have not seen a better movie than this in some time. It's a powerful portrait of our history. The story of Harvey Milk is amazing and told with great skill and sensitivity in this film. The performances are superb. Most notably, Sean Penn disappears into the role of Harvey Milk. He made me forget I was watching Sean Penn play a character. The supporting performances are also incredible. Hirsch, Franklin, Brolin and Luna add wonderful support to the stellar cast. But it is Gus Van Sant who ties together the talent and excellent writing into this gem of a movie. See it at least once.
11 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A must to watch, whether you are gay or not.
checkarou11 March 2009
I thought that Mickey Rourke was supposed to get the Oscar, but after I found out that Sean Penn got it, I decided to watch the movie Milk. I haven't seen "The Wrestler" yet, but as far as "Milk" is concerned, it is an excellent biographical movie, and although I was not sure about Penn, he turned out to be great. A well deserved Oscar and an excellent cast. It teaches a major historical and political event for gays (the movie is based more on men) and teaches what people who are different than what most would consider "normal" have to go through. Costume design very good, they have stayed true to what was in fashion then. My favorite scenes are when they win the vote against the No 6 law, and the final scene where all gays holding candles walk the streets, mourning for Milk.My favorite quote: Dan White: Society can't exist without the family. Harvey Milk: We're not against that. Dan White: Can two men reproduce? Harvey Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying.
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
First rate story of a very important man
richard-196715 December 2008
My wife and I saw Milk yesterday at the Castro Theater in SF -- right around the corner from Harvey's camera shop, where I met Harvey in 1973-4. For those of us who learned from Harvey about what it meant to be gay in America at that time, and who learned genuine acceptance and love, this movie is wonderfully evocative.

Harvey Milk was truly extraordinary, as were the times. This film portrays it all, for the most part accurately. Even the dog poop scene (no real spoiler here), which I had forgotten but remembered as soon as the scene began, was dead on. Van Sant is also very faithful to location, which for me, someone who lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, was really wonderful. Events were recreated where they actually happened. Sean Penn wears the same outfits Harvey wore for the Gay Rights Parade and other moments. It's great to see Cleve Jones, still a gay-rights leader, in a "starring" role.

Why no 10 out of 10? Well, I thought Sean Penn was great, spot on, but it wasn't the earth-shattering performance I expected. Penn absorbed and became Milk, which is what he does so well. No disappointment here, since the role is not earth-shattering. Harvey grew on you; he wasn't Dr. King or Bobby Kennedy.

Second and more significant, the parts that weren't so accurate. Most important here, another extraordinary man, George Moscone, relegated to being a reflection of Harvey, told what to do and how to act. Mayor Moscone was not the leader of a revolution like Harvey, but he was an extraordinarily skilled and enlightened man, a full ally of Harvey's, not the implicitly reluctant guy who needed Harvey's push. Nor was Dan White's resignation aftermath completely accurate -- 'nuff said. Moscone too was a hero, and even though the movie was about Harvey, Van Sant would have done better by giving full (albeit brief) honor to George Moscone too.
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A Page From History and a Civil Rights Story
Richard Adams8 December 2008
I'm a stranger to California. When I heard of the assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk I had little idea what it meant, aside the tragedy of two lives stolen through murder.

The film tells as much a civil rights story as it does the personal story of Harvey Milk. Sean Penn gives such a convincing performance I'm frequently believing I'm watching Milk, but Penn isn't the only strong performance in this film, the entire cast is strong and I feel I'm watching history re-enacted in the place and time of events.

How faithful is Milk to actual history? That I cannot say, aside liberties must have been taken at various points because the dead are not here to tell how it was, but as a film underscoring a branch of civil rights it makes a convincing point. Particularly after the passing of California Proposition 8 and other anti-gay rights measures around the United States.
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Amazing Story, Good Movie
Jeff Howard10 November 2008
First of all, I recommend that people see this movie. I am a straight, married man, and I would recommend it to anyone. I am extremely happy that this movie was made. I was a child when these events took place, and I was fairly ignorant about Harvey Milk, knowing of his activism but not much about it.

Harvey Milk was simply an amazing human being, and his story is moving, dramatic, important and inspiring. Yet there was something about this movie, be it the pacing or something else, that made it less than the sum of its parts. And the parts were all great.

I have to say that the performances are fantastic. Everyone will likely scream for Sean Penn to get an Oscar nomination, but I think that James Franco gave a performance that was equally fantastic. I hope that he gets the recognition that he deserves. In fact, he grounded the film and gave the story a balance, a home. And all of the supporting characters are engaging and well performed.

And the sets, costumes and production design, capturing the 70's with engaging perfection, added a true sense of place to the movie.

So I was left asking, as I walked onto the street, "How do you take a great man, a great story, great performances, and great production design, and make a movie that is good? Not great. Not amazing. Good." Tellingly, the most emotionally charged moment, the moment when the audience cheers the most, proves that movie did not live up to its subject.

See it. Even if, like me, you wish the movie itself was better, you will be glad that you saw this film.
23 out of 43 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Good Enough for a God?
tedg6 February 2009
There's a scene early in this film that is reprised at the end. our hero at 40 says he's done nothing he is proud of, nothing that mattered. Then we follow him in the next 8 years until his death, where he -- we are convinced -- has. Its a patriotic story, and I cried. But the timing is bad for this effect, because its quite clear that in real terms we are not much better off as a nation after thirty years.

The country is more driven by Christian fundamentalism than ever, and remains more fundamentalist than, say, Pakistan. Gays are even more attractive scapegoats for rousing the base than ever before. Though the Anita Bryant of the events we see was publicly humiliated, we manufacture Anita substitutes in large numbers.

This ran through my mind, because though the life we see may have seemed significant, I wonder. And the same can be said of the film, and that's what this comment is about.

Van Sant knows how to make an effective film. This has all sorts of narrative devices based on recall, each of which reinforce the others.

Its framed by a tape made by the soon-to-be-murdered activist. It merges staged drama with real news footage (peppered with fake ones). It merges real and imagined threads in his life. Most profoundly, it merges clear "modern" visions of the Castro in its day with seemingly genuine footage as we would see it today: grainy, jerky, dated dyes. There are other intermingling of things from the time with modern ones. We notice them because the times are so close. Simple things like colloquialisms, political notions. Bigger things like the carriage of key characters, the cadence of speeches, even street chats.

This is all to say that there is a lot of very clever engineering here to fold us into the thing, its times and energies. But is it good enough?

Sure, we are glad that a "movement" was started. We celebrate his life at the end as we are supposed to. But is the project strong enough to change us? Surely I have encountered films that are powerful enough to turn lives, to crease souls. Does this material deserve something like that, or is it enough to make us feel right for its last hour? Can you have a powerful film and a simple celebration? Can significant true events be recounted in a way that causes more significant events — which is to ask whether the true can come from the true.

I only know that this film was fine. It worked well enough to engage and elicit patriotic urges. But I know it isn't good enough. No, and we need those that are.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
12 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews