STARS: SEAN PENN, EMILE HIRSCH, JAMES FRANCO, ALISON PILL, DIEGO LUGA, AND JOSH BROLIN.
DIRECTED BY: GUS VAN SANT
RUN TIME: 130 MIN
First off let’s get one thing clear, this isn’t a film about milk. I didn’t see one glass of milk in the entire film. ;-)
Milk is the true story of Harvey Milk’s crusade for gay rights, and his rise to becoming the first openly gay politician in California history. Now being an openly straight guy, I have to tell you that the love scenes in this film are graphic and somewhat awkward to watch. (Warning), if this sort of acting bothers you, you should avoid this film. However if you watch movies overall with an open mind and enjoy powerful performances that educate, you might find Milk refreshing. Unlike other films that deal with this subject matter, It was the cast that drew me to this film. Not to mention the true historical information. Unlike a film about gay cowboys, I felt this film deserved a viewing.
Milk begins in 1978, as Harvey Milk (Penn) is recounting his life into a tape recorder. He’s clearly aware that his viewpoints could one day get him killed and wants to set the record straight. He begins to explain what drove him to become a California State Supervisor. At this point the story goes back to 1970 where it all began in New York as he meets up with Scott Smith (Franco). They fall in love and decide to travel to San Francisco to escape the harassment and past of New York City.
The San Francisco counter culture seems to be thriving as they open a small camera shop on Market Street. After being discriminated by the locals, Harvey rallies up the communities gay population and forms an support group. Its successful and the Market Street district becomes a haven for homosexuals. The shops that support Harvey thrive, the ones that discriminate go out of business. At a certain point the local Teamster leader asks Harvey to support a boycott of Coors beer. Again with Harvey’s leadership abilities the boycott is a success and as a result the Teamsters begin to hire homosexual drivers.
Success turns to tragedy as local cops start to openly raid nightclubs and assault gay customers. After a friend of Harvey’s is found dead in an alley, he stages a public protest that ultimately propels him to run for San Francisco City Supervisor. Along the campaign trail Harvey meets up with Cleve Jones (Hirsch). He’s a street giggalo that has no plans to vote for anyone, however after seeing for himself the gay riots in Spain he decides to work for Harvey.
All this leads to a bittersweet endeavour as he looses three elections in the span of four years. Harvey’s ready to call it quits just as actress turned anti-gay spokeswoman Anita Bryant, successfully repeals an amendment in Florida that defends gay rights. After calming down the local violent uprising, he’s propelled back into the race for Supervisor.
After the city changes its zoning laws, Harvey finds his odds have changed as he finally wins a seat as a San Francisco State Supervisor. One of his colleagues is Dan White (Brolin) a straight laced x cop. Harvey decides to befriend White in hopes that his support will help him down the line. As state Senator John Briggs introduces the historical Anti-Gay Amendment, “Proposition 6.” Fighting back Prop 6, becomes Harveys biggest challenge, as his personal life turns into a whirlwind of victory and heartbreak.
The visual style of Gus Van Sant, really captures the look and vibe of the Seventies. He grounds the film with remarkable archival tv news footage that locks in the true story aspect of the film. Sean Penn, again delivers a powerful performance as the gay politician Harvey Milk. James Franco also delivers a powerful performance. Emile Hirsch and James Brolin (as usual) provide amazing life to there characters. Milk isn’t a film for everyone but there’s one lesson the story teaches and that is that discrimination has no place in a country that bases its constitution on “All Men Are Created Equal”.
Lastly Milk is a very educational film.