Runtime: 2 hr 5 min
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch
Van Sant's greatest accomplishment is to make political activism sexy.
Review by: MiamiMovieCritic
Added: 7 years ago
Milk is Gus Van Sant's best film since Elephant, a stirring tribute to the life of Harvey Milk. Embodied in a great, Oscar-winning performance by Sean Penn (and yes, he deserved to beat Mickey Rourke for Best Actor), America's first openly gay public official is profiled from his 40th birthday to his assassination in 1978.
Rarely has a political film seemed so timely. A huge chunk of screen time is devoted to the defeat of the Briggs Initiative, or Proposition 6, which would have banned gay people from working in California's public schools. Thirty years later, shortly before the film's release, Prop 8 passed, banning same-sex marriages in that state.
Van Sant's greatest accomplishment is to make political activism sexy for a new generation. The bright-eyed activists that Milk surrounded himself with are perfectly played by an all-star cast. Emile Hirsch makes an indelible impression as Cleve Jones, a cynical street kid recruited by Milk. Even Lucas Grabeel (from High School Musical fame) is great. James Franco gives a fearless performance as one of Milk's last longtime partners. Ditto Josh Brolin as Dan White, Milk's killer; his intriguing approach is to play the part like a jilted lover. All of these performances are enhanced by the amazing real-life footage that concludes the film, which reveals just how precise Van Sant was in his casting choices.
That level of artistry extends to all aspects of the film, from Danny Elfman's haunting score to Harris Savides' period-specific cinematography. This is one of 2008's best, most important movies.