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It’s to Milk’s advantage that it has a gay director. Unlike previous homophilic Oscar-hopeful Brokeback Mountain, this movie doesn’t shroud its subject in mystery. Instead, Gus Van Sant tells the story of Harvey Milk’s gay rights campaign from the already liberated perspective that the rest of the world better get used to it. In his most conventional film since Finding Forrester, Van Sant zeroes in exclusively on the moments of Harvey Milk’s life where he was newsworthy. This turns out to be Milk’s strength and weakness. Van Sant’s acceptance of Harvey means he never feels false obligation to explain him---a lesser movie would have childhood flashbacks along the lines of Harvey Milk playing with dolls. This one is humane enough to know that’s a non-issue. But it’s infinitely more exciting as a lesson in the 1970s movement in San Francisco’s Castro district than it is of Harvey Milk’s character. Sean Penn’s externally sunny performance covers wounds the movie only hints at---that reliance on suggestion was also a key to the director’s Elephant. In the particularly gripping last half, where Harvey goes head-to-head with conservative campaigner Dan White (Josh Brolin), the movie hits its rise-of-the-oppressed sympathies with political force. As a true story, it makes great drama---preferable if you don’t know the outcome already.

Rated R (MPAA) · 128 min. · 2009
Official Site:
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Producer: Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks and Michael London
Cast: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, James Franco, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, Kelvin Yu, Lucas Grabeel, Alison Pill, Victor Garber and Denis O'Hare


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