Milk tells the story of San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk. In the 1970s, Milk reinvented himself from a closeted New York City insurance salesman to become the country’s first openly gay politician and the face of the country’s gay rights movement. His life, his political career, and his untimely death have left an unequaled legacy on both gay rights and in American politics.
Harvey Milk is played by Academy Award winner Sean Penn, who once again shows the depth of his talent through this performance. Penn is compelling and never seems as though he is playing a stereotype, which is the greatest risk for an actor playing Milk.
Milk boasts an equally impressive supporting cast. James Franco, Emilie Hirsch, Alison Pill, Joseph Cross, and Diego Luna play Milk’s closest allies. Franco is a silent force as Scott Smith, Milk’s long-suffering partner. But Franco’s quiet yet resonate performance is outshined by Josh Brolin. Brolin’s portrayal of Milk’s fellow city supervisor and eventual assassin, Dan White, is mesmerizing and haunting. Surprisingly, White is a sympathetic villain; his descent into evil is treated fairly by the filmmakers, allowing audiences to draw their own opinions about White.
There is an eerie sensation about Milk. It is the story of a politician who becomes the voice for individual rights while spreading a message of hope and it is a story focused on a gay rights proposition in California. Two stories similar to this played out in the recent election, giving Milk an even more resounding message. In many ways, you are watching a film that is about today as much as it is about the 1970s.
By the end of this film, you know Harvey Milk and that is Milk‘s greatest achievement.