Milk (15)



Drama (2008)
128mins US

Starring: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Alison Pill, Lucas Grabeel, Denis O'Hare
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer(s): Dustin Lance Black
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Haunting biopic of the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, opening in 1970 New York City where Harvey meets the love of his life, Scott Smith. The couple moves to San Francisco and attempts to set up a camera shop, only to meet fierce resistance and prejudice from other shopkeepers. So Harvey mobilizes the local gay community and boycotts businesses, which dare to discriminate against people because of their sexuality. Weathering the inflammatory remarks of Anita Bryant and Senator John Briggs, Harvey encourages his campaign team led by manager Anne Kronenberg to never give up.

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LondonNet Film Review
Milk

Gus Van Sant's stylish and haunting biopic celebrates the power of one man to take on the political establishment and to affect lasting change through a selfless, unwavering pursuit of equality for all...

Cleve Jones (EMILE HIRSCH) in MILK. Momentum PicturesOn November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, was gunned down along with Mayor George Moscone by city supervisor Dan White. The gunman had learned that he would lose his job after publicly supporting Proposition 6, which advocated the removal of gay and lesbian schoolteachers from the state's schools. Milk pays tribute to this crusading politico with effortless style and jaw-dropping emotional power, rendering us speechless and tear-sodden as the film recreates the torchlight procession of tens of thousands of local people to honour the activist's murder. The parallels between present and past are evident when Harvey cheers, "We gotta give 'em hope," during a rally, a sentiment plied by Democrats to sweep Obama into power.

Milk opens with Harvey (Sean Penn) sitting at his kitchen table, speaking into a cassette recorder. "This is Harvey Milk speaking on Friday November 18th. This is to be played in the event of my death by assassination..." With the sombre confession as a framework, Dustin Lance Black's delicate screenplay rewinds to 1970 New York City, where 40-something Harvey meets the love of his life, 22-year-old Scott Smith (James Franco), on the subway. The couple move to San Francisco and attempt to set up a camera shop, only to meet fierce resistance and prejudice from other shopkeepers. So Harvey mobilises the local gay community and boycotts businesses which dare to discriminate against people because of their sexuality, fostering a new air of togetherness. Weathering the inflammatory remarks of Anita Bryant and Senator John Briggs (Denis O'Hare), Harvey reminds his campaign team, led by ballsy manager Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill), to never give up. Drifter Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) takes Harvey at his word and lends his voice to the cause. Meanwhile Harvey and Scott's relationship founders and eventually self-destructs, propelling the statesman into the path of emotionally unstable Latino hanger-on Jack (Luna) and then into public office with Dan Smith (Josh Brolin).

Scott Smith (JAMES FRANCO) in MILK. Momentum PicturesMilk is another beautifully crafted picture from Van Sant, delivering the underlying messages with a solemnity when other directors might have been tempted to bang an ideological drum. Penn delivers possibly the performance of his career, affecting Harvey's speech patterns and mannerisms to perfectly capture the capriciousness and determination of this man of the people. Franco is a solid romantic lead, generating smouldering screen chemistry with Penn, and Brolin bristles with tightly coiled rage as White's vision of traditional family life is threatened by Harvey's bold crusade. "Beware the ides of November," someone warns Harvey a few months before his death. We mourn, we remember and we celebrate his legacy through Van Sant's lens.

- Sam Cannon


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