Coming in the wake of the California Proposition 8 which abolishes same-sex marriages within the state, Milk is of as much political consequence now as its protagonist was 30 years previously. Directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk is the true story of gay rights leader Harvey Milk who stands for and gets elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, hence becoming the first openly gay official to be elected to public office. His struggle to reach out to the public and counteract their homophobia until he can carve out this landmark victory for himself is what comprises most of the movie.
Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) comes to the gay capital of the world, Castro, with his lover Scott Smith (James Franco), a hippie and his first campaign manager. As Milk goes about campaigning, enlisting support and slowly building up a team of loyal supporters around him, one can’t help but be drawn in by his strength of purpose and his dream of emancipation. The movie hence caters not merely to audiences familiar with the politics of the United States in those times or in sympathy with gay rights, but also audiences who appreciate great human endeavour for a cause. Harvey Milk’s drive to achieve what he believes in to the total exclusion of everything else is a trait to be admired, even though it results in many personal tragedies for him. Milk’s success spree can only be put a stop to by his death, a measure his desperate colleague Dan White is finally driven to take. However Dan White (Josh Brolin) too is sensitively portrayed, not as a fiend but as a man pushed to his limit.
Sean Penn’s Oscar winning performance as Harvey Milk is of course the highlight of the film. He has managed to emulate Milk’s quaint mannerisms to perfection, successfully capturing his great charisma, his indomitable spirit and innate kind heartedness. The performances of the rest of the cast are largely satisfactory and the storyline itself is fluid and engaging, if somewhat slow.
Overall the movie is a hard hitting depiction of the poignant life and dedicated work of a brilliant though largely forgotten historical figure. While the movie released too late to affect Proposition 8, Sean Penn expressed the hope during his Oscar win that the movie be screened in the White House. This movie is capable of initiating a large scale change in people’s mindset, hence continuing Harvey Milk’s legacy and moving even further towards realizing his dreams.
My rating: 2.5/5