Starring: Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Diego Luna, James Franco, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Denis O’Hare
Director: Gus Van Sant
Summary: The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official
Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Penn)*, Supporting Actor (Brolin), Original Screenplay*, Original Score, Costume Design, Film Editing
While there are a couple of hiccups here and there, I think this was about as good as a fictionalized account of the life of Harvey Milk was ever going to be. Sean Penn is outstanding as the gay rights pioneer (even if I still would have given the Oscar to Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler), and always embodies the humanity and spirit, the great aspects and the flaws, of the man he is portraying. For me, that humanity is where the film excels-it takes a much more personal and smaller approach to the subject than others might have and it’s much better for it, showing Milk as a fundamentally good person who decided to start fighting and helped start a long journey towards progress with the neighborhood he lived in. Along these same lines, it does a great job of focusing on how tightknit of a community the LGBT community was and had to be because each other were all they had and there’s a real spirit to the scenes where we see the group of activists together.
The way the film depicts Dan White is also interesting because of his motivations. He didn’t hate Milk because he was gay (although he certainly wasn’t a supporter of gay rights) which means Milk wasn’t really a martyr-he was murdered because of mental instability, resentment and a feeling of betrayal that had been building in White over the the past ten months. Humanizing one of the great villains in the history of the gay community in this way further grounds the film and keeps the story personal, making it not so much a grand narrative about the gay rights movement in general, but instead the story of a great activist who was killed senselessly and tragically. Milk is one of the better “based on a true story” movies of the last decade and is well worth watching.