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Guide price: $11
Last updated on 18th Mar 2009
When a famous person, like the nation's first openly gay male city supervisor, inspires an acclaimed book (The Mayor of Castro Street) and Oscar-winning documentary (The Times of Harvey Milk), a biopic can seem superfluous at best. Taking over from Oliver Stone and Bryan Singer, Gus Van Sant, whose previous picture was the more experimental Paranoid Park, directs with such grace, he renders the concern moot.
Unlike Randy Shilts' biography, which begins at the beginning, Dustin Lance Black's script starts in 1972, just as Milk (Sean Penn, in a finely-wrought performance) and his boyfriend, Scott (James Franco, equally good), move from New York to San Francisco. Milk opens a camera shop on the Castro that becomes a safe haven for victims of discrimination, convincing him to enter politics.
With each race he runs, Harvey's relationship with Scott unravels further. Finally, he wins, and the real battle begins as Milk takes on Proposition 6, which denies equal rights to homosexuals. He does what he can to rally politicians, like George Moscone (Victor Garber) and Dan White (Josh Brolin). While the mayor is willing, the conservative board member has reservations, and after Milk fails to back one of White’s pet projects, the die is cast, leading to the murder of two beloved figures.
If Van Sant’s film captures Harvey in all his complexities (he was, for instance, a very funny man), Milk also serves as an enticement to grass-roots activism, showing how one regular guy elevated everyone around him, notably Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), the ex-street hustler who created the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial.
Released in the wake of Proposition 8, California’s anti-gay marriage amendment, Milk is inspirational in the best way: one person can and did make a difference, but the struggle is far from over. --Kathleen C. Fennessy Get to Know the Cast From Milk Sean Penn (Harvey Milk) Josh Brolin (Dan White) James Franco (Scott Smith) Beyond Milk on DVD Get in on Blu-ray More from Focus Features Shop More Oscar Nominees & Winners Stills from Milk (Click for larger image)