R | 05 November 2008 (USA)
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The true story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man ever elected to public office. In San Francisco in the late 1970s, Harvey Milk becomes an activist for gay rights and inspires others to join him in his fight for equal rights that should be available to all Americans.


Simple and well acted, it has tension enough to knot the stomach.

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The performances transcend the film's tropes, grounding it in characters that feel more complete than this subgenre often produces.

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The movie turns out to be a little better than the average. Starting from a romantic formula often seen in the cinema, it ends in the most predictable (and somewhat bland) way.

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The story, direction, characters, and writing/dialogue is akin to taking a tranquilizer shot to the neck, but everything else was so well done.

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Jared Curtis

Milk is a biography drama film that tells the story of Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who became the United States' first openly gay elected official, up until his assassination by Dan fellow city supervisor Dan White on November 27, 1978. The film was directed by Gus Van Sant, and he does a really, really solid job. From the very opening of the film, it's clear what this film's intent is- to get you invested in Harvey's life, what happened to him, and the plight of the gay community in San Francisco at in the 1970's. This is all achieved, in quite a brilliant way. Harvey's political career was cut extremely short, as he didn't begin running for office until his forties and he was only city supervisor for eleven months, but his impact was felt. He was the leader of the movement that was taking place in San Francisco at the time. It is clear that Van Sant really does try to keep the film historically accurate, and it does not appear that there are any fabrications to the story, although it is clear to anyone with knowledge on Harvey and his life that some things have been cut out. The film opens with Harvey meeting Scott Smith, his longtime boyfriend, the night of his fortieth birthday, so anything that happened in his life before that point is not explored, although this really works to the films merit. The way this narrative is woven throughout the film is what makes it such a strong piece. In the beginning, it is explicitly said what is going to take place by the end of the film, so that the meat of the viewer's focus is brought to the events as they take place, and how we get to the eventual outcome. The performances here are fantastic, with Sean Penn's sincere and bubbly performance as Harvey Milk being one of the best of his career. His chemistry with James Franco as Scott Smith is also just fantastic. The people around Harvey, his political team and his friends, are incredibly likeable, interesting, and well acted. The story and time setting of this film is what really sells it. It is extremely engaging, very well thought out, and establishes an absolutely great symphony of different moods throughout its duration. The costume design and the way in which this movie is shot really establishes the time period of this film extraordinarily well. There's shots during scenes in which Harvey's giving speeches from a crowd, that are either shot from a crane overhead or from right in the crowd, which are incredibly engaging, and establish mood very well. There are a lot of very memorable scenes in this film that really compel the viewer to sympathize with the movement, and Harvey's dedication to being able to not just be gay, but openly gay in America. Harvey's occasional narration through tape recorder is a great technique to keep the story moving, and it adds great depth to his character. While the dialogue is pretty well written, every now and again it feels a little manufactured, with dialogue setting up the next event, but it's still very serviceable and not too distracting. It's not only a landmark in biography and LGBT film, but an important historical film as well. I absolutely love this film. 9.0/10

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Up front, let me say that this is a good movie with excellent acting, a powerful message, and overall it's a credit to the art of filmmaking. Other reviewers have covered that better than I can; I just want to mention something that no one else seems to have brought up.Director Gus Van Sant chose to focus on the personal life of the man Harvey Milk rather than the cause he championed. This wouldn't be a problem except that Van Sant gives us a highly airbrushed, family-friendly, almost Disney version of Harvey Milk, making me wonder: if this film isn't about the gay rights movement, and if it isn't about the real Harvey Milk, then what is it about?If you dare to hear me out for 2 paragraphs, you might want to don your iconoclast flak jacket because I may shatter the lily white image of Milk that the director would have you believe. But I'm doing this to make a point that a good film would celebrate the ideals of an individual rather than the individual (or a fabcation of a perfect saint for us to idolize). But such is Hollywood, I guess.The man real man Harvey Milk wasn't always the boyscout which director Gus Van Sant paints him to be. In reality, it may have been more accurate to say that Harvey was *interested in dating* boyscouts (boo hiss, I couldn't resist 1 tasteless joke, but the truth remains: at least one of Harvey's lovers, Jack McKinley, was 16 years old when Harvey, 33, ran away with him in 1963). Another sore spot, which the film exploits for a cheap emotional twist, is the suicide of a certain minor character. If you want to know the truth behind this subplot, google "Harvey Milk and the Boy from Minnesota" for an eye opening exposé which might make you wish they had omitted the whole episode from the film, rather than twist it into a tear jerker.I understand that Harvey Milk is synonymous with gay rights in the 1970s, and certainly he deserves much praise for his amazing accomplishments. I just resent the way Gus Van Sant fabricated a glossy, flawless hero. I would've much preferred a fallible hero who does the right thing, much like the excellent film "Amadeus" accurately portrays Mozart as a stumbling drunk but a musical genius nonetheless. Give the audience credit for differentiating the human from the achievement.Apologies if I ruined the illusion of Harvey Milk's perfect life, but isn't it better to honor the things he did? If anything, that's the legacy Harvey Milk wanted: for us to carry on the message rather than idolizing the messenger.

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Gus Van Sant took on the crucially important subject matter of the openly gay activist who sought to give a voice to the oppressed with his 2008 film, Milk. Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and James Franco, Van Sant introduces audiences to Harvey Milk, who assembles the gay community and injects their ignored needs and rights into the political system. I was sure Milk was produced solely as Academy Award bait, and I could not have been more wrong or happier to be wrong. The 70's problems Milk discusses are in no way only a problem of the past making Milk as important to see today as it was in 2008.On his 40th Birthday, Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) realizes that he doesn't have any accomplishments to his name and seeks to change that. Energized and supported by his great love, Scott Smith (James Franco), Harvey steps out of the closet of New York, where he is from, and moves to San Francisco's emerging gay community to start a business. Immediately feeling push back from some of the closed-minded neighboring realtors, Harvey decides to run for office in hopes to have a positive effect on the business and living restrictions forced upon gay members of the community. After two unsuccessful campaigns for a City Supervisor Board position, Harvey finally finds success and wins the election while amassing a large and vocal support base finally giving purchasing power to the repressed group. As the film spans Harvey's rise to politics, we also get to see his personal relationships mature and develop as his base grows. The audience also sees each new repressive measure unleashed by the masses in hopes to repress the gay community. A particular foe, Dan White (Josh Brolin), has trouble dealing with what he sees as a betrayal of Harvey on a measure he discussed with him that White believed would help the people of his district that Harvey was unable to support. White proves to be an unstable foe and will affect Milk's rise to power and the gay community in ways no one anticipated.Here is another backward narrative that I am so fond of. The film opens with Harvey narrating his history and letting the audience know what the end result is, but never making the revealed story anything less than engaging. Being a fan of technical aspects of a film, the most enjoyable part of the picture for me was what appeared to be a heavy reliance on hand-held cameras. Through most of the crowd scenes, it appears Van Sant used hand-held cameras to capture Harvey's activism. This was a brilliant decision by the director, allowing the audience to be as swept into the marching and protesting as the participants. There were also some excellent shots off reflective surfaces, as well. One shot that remains in the mind of the viewer is the one in which we see the body of a murdered man killed solely for his sexual identity reflected off the whistle he kept as the only measure of safety. Milk also flawlessly transitions between actual and filmed footage, a feat which often plagues a film. Sean Penn clearly immerses himself in the role, creating a wonderful characterization of the titular role. Milk neglects the safe route of being a film that is only made for Oscar fare and lasts as an important narrative that clearly addresses problems that still plague the nation today.

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I don't usually write reviews but... this film has me speechless. I hadn't heard of Harvey Milk until I was made to do a speech on him in English class. So fortunate to get to read his story, I started to look into what else was written and filmed about him. When I found this movie, I didn't expect a whole lot, although I knew that the actors in it were well known and acclaimed. I can honestly say that this is one of the most spectacular films I have ever watched. Sean Penn delivers an unforgettable performance with such close resemblance to the actual Harvey Milk. He perfects his nuances and makes himself a lovable and powerful character. The way that Milk is able to make light of dark situations enhances the mood and gives the audience hope,and Penn did a fantastic job transforming himself and living his role. By far, this is his best film and he has definitely earned the Oscar he won. James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, and the rest of the cast are perfectly chosen for their roles, and their acting is believable and realistic. They all enhance Penn's role, and highlight how important Milk was to the entire gay community and the minorities. They also show how selfless and determined he was in the face of such hate and discrimination, and how he was willing to put himself out there for other people. Truly an amazing human being. Gus Van Sant brings another amazing piece to the table, and incredibly weaves this film together. It is an incredibly powerful work of art that most definitely will leave you in tears. I truly believe that every person should watch this film, gay or straight, because it leaves an impact so great that may really change the way you think about the world and the people in it. The love scenes between Sean Penn and James Franco, and some other ones later on between other characters, are so perfectly played out where the audience will not feel uncomfortable, but instead see that it is not just two men kissing, but it is two HUMAN BEINGS in love.This film has had a major impact on me, and that is the most amazing type of film. It has left me with hope for the minorities who are feeling discriminated against, and it truly proves that ANYBODY can change the world. With the hate and challenges that Harvey faced, including people such as Anita Bryant, he persevered and stood up to what he believed in. He is perhaps the most inspiring public figure to me, and he has definitely made me a better person today. This film teaches people to fight for what's right, and that we are all human beings, no matter race, gender, or preference. So whoever you are out there reading this, WATCH IT and I know that you will not be disappointed.

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