Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence, 128 minutes
Wes's Grade: A-
Superbly acted, entertaining "Milk" makes its statements
Even if you don't agree with Harvey Milk or his politics, you have to agree that "Milk," the film depiction of his political work is powerful, entertaining and superbly acted by lead Sean Penn as Milk and a gallery of other actors. Penn will no doubt garner another Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the real-life political activist who was tragically shot in November 1978 (the release of the film was timed - albeit perfectly - with the 30th anniversary of Milk's death).
Milk (Penn) settles in San Francisco with his lover Scott Smith (James Franco) and opens a camera shop in Castro Street. Realizing the lack of civil rights in the gay community, he becomes a leader in the San Francisco gay community and has aspirations for political office, the first for an openly gay person. He runs for office several times, losing each time yet receiving more votes each times he runs. When the district lines are redrawn, a new district is created and Milk runs once again, this time winning the election and becoming a Supervisor (or city councilperson) representing his district. Milk also passes a controversial anti-gay rights bill in San Francisco, attracting the displeasure of fellow Supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin). White resigns his seat, claiming the position didn't pay enough to support his family; it leads to extreme depression and instability, and he ends up killing both Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone (played by Victor Garber).
"Milk" is a finely drawn, well-made production, superbly directed by Gus Van Sant (best known for "Good Will Hunting") and written by TV scribe Dustin Lance Black and exuisitely acted by Penn and the supporting players. A gallery of actors appear, including Franco, Garber, Brolin, Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch and Alison Pill, all superb playing real-life people, but it's all Penn's show, who perfectly captures Milk's persona, his mannerisms, and of course, his activism. Above all, it's a triumph of performance due to Penn's adept ability and skill to give a textured, subtle performance that's certainly Oscar worthy.
Brolin is creepy scary and sad as Milk's murderous colleague Dan White, who shot Milk, and Franco has some good moments in a supporting role as one of Milk's real-life partners."Milk" is based on several sources, including some actual audio tapes that Milk made before his death, in the event something were to happen to him (Milk actually predicts his own death). If you are familiar with Milk's story, the ending is no surprise, ala Titanic, but it's still an affecting, moving story getting there, and really sad given all that's taken place since then.
"Milk" is worth a look not just for its politics, but is a finely textured look at a tragic figure whose life ended way too early. Look for it to play heavy in awards consideration, particularly the Oscars, but there are more award-worthy films still to be released, including "Frost/Nixon," "The Wrestler" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."