311 user 333 critic

Milk (2008)

2:26 | Trailer
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.


Gus Van Sant
3,938 ( 162)
Won 2 Oscars. Another 65 wins & 142 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Sean Penn ... Harvey Milk
Emile Hirsch ... Cleve Jones
Josh Brolin ... Dan White
Diego Luna ... Jack Lira
James Franco ... Scott Smith
Alison Pill ... Anne Kronenberg
Victor Garber ... Mayor Moscone
Denis O'Hare ... John Briggs
Joseph Cross ... Dick Pabich
Stephen Spinella ... Rick Stokes
Lucas Grabeel ... Danny Nicoletta
Brandon Boyce ... Jim Rivaldo
Howard Rosenman ... David Goodstein (as Zvi Howard Rosenman)
Kelvin Yu ... Michael Wong
Jeff Koons ... Art Agnos
Learn more

More Like This 

Capote (2005)
Biography | Crime | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

In 1959, Truman Capote learns of the murder of a Kansas family and decides to write a book about the case. While researching for his novel In Cold Blood, Capote forms a relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith, who is on death row.

Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Clifton Collins Jr., Catherine Keener
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

The story of a forbidden and secretive relationship between two cowboys, and their lives over the years.

Director: Ang Lee
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams
Biography | Drama | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

Based on the events of the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin's regime as seen by his personal physician during the 1970s.

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Stars: James McAvoy, Forest Whitaker, Gillian Anderson
The Reader (2008)
Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  

Post-WWII Germany: Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, law student Michael Berg re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a war-crime trial.

Director: Stephen Daldry
Stars: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Bruno Ganz
Precious II (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

In New York City's Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.

Director: Lee Daniels
Stars: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton
Man on Wire (2008)
Documentary | Biography | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  

A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit's daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City's World Trade Center's twin towers in 1974, what some consider, "the artistic crime of the century".

Director: James Marsh
Stars: Philippe Petit, Jean François Heckel, Jean-Louis Blondeau
The Queen (2006)
Biography | Drama | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  

After the death of Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II struggles with her reaction to a sequence of events nobody could have predicted.

Director: Stephen Frears
Stars: Helen Mirren, Michael Sheen, James Cromwell
Crazy Heart (2009)
Drama | Music | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A faded country music musician is forced to reassess his dysfunctional life during a doomed romance that also inspires him.

Director: Scott Cooper
Stars: Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell
Syriana (2005)
Drama | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.9/10 X  

A politically charged epic about the state of the oil industry in the hands of those personally involved in and affected by it.

Director: Stephen Gaghan
Stars: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Amanda Peet
Documentary | Crime | News
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

Alex Gibney exposes the haunting details of the USA's torture and interrogation practices during the War in Afghanistan.

Director: Alex Gibney
Stars: Alex Gibney, Brian Keith Allen, Moazzam Begg
Crime | Drama | Mystery
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  

A law firm brings in its "fixer" to remedy the situation after a lawyer has a breakdown while representing a chemical company that he knows is guilty in a multibillion-dollar class action suit.

Director: Tony Gilroy
Stars: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  

A family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.

Directors: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris
Stars: Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Greg Kinnear


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. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


His life changed history. His courage changed lives. See more »


Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »

Did You Know?


During the filming of the scene in which Dan White's son Charles is christened, the real Charles White was on the set. See more »


When Milk and his allies dispose of the Coors Beer, contemporary Bud Light and Budweiser taps are visible in the bar. Bud Light was introduced in 1982. See more »


Scott Smith: Looks like you're gonna make it to fifty after all.
See more »


Featured in At the Movies: Summer Special 2008/09 (2008) See more »


Over the Rainbow
Written by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen
Performed by Judy Garland
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.
See more »

User Reviews

Gus Van Sant pays his dues
30 November 2008 | by Chris KnippSee all my reviews

'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.

53 of 85 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 311 user reviews »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »






Release Date:

30 January 2009 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Untitled Harvey Milk Project See more »


Box Office


$20,000,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$1,453,844, 30 November 2008

Gross USA:


Cumulative Worldwide Gross:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

DTS | Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

Contribute to This Page

We've Got Your Streaming Picks Covered

Looking for some great streaming picks? Check out some of the IMDb editors' favorites movies and shows to round out your Watchlist.

Recently Viewed