What would the world be like without certain people who stood up for what they believe in? Would African-Americans have equal rights today if not for Martin Luther King Jr.? Some people believe in a purpose so much bigger than themselves, it changes the world. Harvey Milk may not have known it at the time, but he would be one of those people.
Milk is a docu-drama about the last eight years of Harvey Milk’s life. Mixing archived new footage with sensational acting, it brings San Francisco in the 1970’s into our world today. Sean Penn (The Game) stars as Milk, a 40 year old homosexual, who has done nothing with his life. Desperate to find meaning, he and his lover Scott Smith (James Franco) move to San Francisco. Upon arrival, they decide to start their own business and are greeted with rejection and hatred for being openly gay. Milk chooses to stand up and fight for his human rights. While most of the country condemn homosexuals, Milk stands firm in his belief of equality. He believes so much he runs for city supervisor of District 5. After losing 4 elections, he finally finds success. What would transpire is one of the most remarkable victories ever in the political world. Milk not only blazed trails for homosexuals, but he would help seniors and union workers. Weaving from his personal life into his political life, Milk is a portrait of a very complex human being. Meeting an untimely death in 1978, Milk has undoubtedly left his mark on the world forever.
Directed by Gus Van Sant (Elephant), Sean Penn is able to transform into Harvey Milk. He dissolves into the role, and makes you feel his pain and his strength as he fights for his beliefs. The rest of the cast feels more like an ensemble then supporting actors. Josh Brolin (W.) continues his career resurrection as the deeply disturbed Dan White. White is a politician who is torn between his religious beliefs, and his work relationship with Milk. Brolin’s take as the villainous White, is a true study of human psychology. While others may have played him as the coward he was, Brolin makes us feel not just anger, but some remorse for his lost soul. Franco (Spider-Man) and Diego Luna (Criminal) each play a lover of Milks. While both relationships are different in tone, they both feel genuine. The love Milk felt for each of them is perfectly written in Penn’s performance. Rounding out the cast is Emile Hirsch (Alpha Dog) in his best role to date as Cleve Jones. Jones is a young homosexual without much purpose in life, until he meets Milk. After a brief encounter, the two would meet a few years later, and would become life long friends and coworkers. Hirsch brings many dimensions to the role, sometimes funny, and sometimes unruly, but it always connects.
Milk certainly isn’t a film for everyone. The subject matter may put some people off, but it almost feels like a movie that needs to be watched. As with most of Sant’s movies, it’s paced slow in spots, and uneven in others. Also, the mixing of actual news footage can be jolting for some, but I found it refreshing. However, the film is always interesting, and very informative about the first openly gay man elected to political office.
Milk’s actions have caused a ripple effect throughout the United States. If not for him, homosexuals may still not have some of the rights that they have. Still battling for true equality, gays can at least take solace in the fact that one man helped get the ball rolling. One can only hope for a future where homosexuals are accepted just like everyone else. It’s a vision Milk saw, and continues to be seen today.