Review: Milk (2008)

Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk who, in 1977, became the first openly gay man to be elected to public office as part of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The road Harvey took to get there was an all but easy one to travel, what with opposition galore and several losses under his belt before his untimely death nearly a year later in 1978. His efforts were not in vain however, as Harvey Milk very quickly became a household name for both gay rights and human rights alike. His eccentricity and undying perseverance left a permanent mark on all those he’d met and bonded with over the years, and to this day, still manages to do so. This film adaptation, benchmarked by an Oscar-winning performance from Sean Penn, is an excellent telling of the ill-fated activist and is completely engrossing from start to finish.

Right off the bat, it’s hard to discuss anything about this film other than the truly fantastic performances. Needless to say, Sean Penn is outstanding in probably THE best, if not just one of the best roles of his career. It’s almost a shame that said performance is as good as it is, as the supporting cast, despite exceptionally worthwhile efforts from Franco, Hirsch, Luna, and Brolin especially, seems to fall flat whenever they find themselves sharing screen time with him. Despite this, Van Sant does an excellent job keeping everyone in line, and in the end, each character manages to exhibit great chemistry with one another, even if some of their stories seem hastily thrown into the mix in order to cover every corner of Harvey’s life.

Furthermore, Milk exhibits some of the finest writing I have ever witnessed in regards to any film that’s been centered around real events and the people associated with them. From the terrific script to the genuinely heartfelt attention to the details surrounding the life and death of the central character, Dustin Lance Black proves to us that his Oscar nomination, and ultimately win, are both very much deserved. What really irks me in this respect though are those who are ignorant enough to say things like “Ew, too much gay, it’s icky.” Without said detail, how would one obtain a sense of who Harvey Milk really was as a person, and the impact he had on those that were closest to him? For me personally, Milk opened my eyes to ever-present issue of gay rights and those who oppose them, and I’m normally pretty oblivious.

Milk is truly an excellent film, the best, in my opinion, of 2008 next to The Wrestler. With superb performances all around, equally superb writing and direction from Lance Black and Van Sant, and an eye-opening look at the world of gay rights and the struggles those associated with them have had to endure, I strongly suggest you give this one a view ASAP. I will warn you though that if you’re not one of those that’s deemed “open-minded,” you’ll undoubtedly find yourself a little squeamish when it comes to those more graphic moments. Great film nonetheless.

Rating: 9/10

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