4.7 37
Director: Gus Van Sant

Cast: Gus Van Sant, Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin


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Academy Award winner Sean Penn takes the title role in Gus Van Sant's biopic tracing the last eight years in the life of Harvey Milk, the ill-fated politician and gay activist whose life changed history, and whose courage still inspires people. When Milk was elected to the SanSee more details below

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Academy Award winner Sean Penn takes the title role in Gus Van Sant's biopic tracing the last eight years in the life of Harvey Milk, the ill-fated politician and gay activist whose life changed history, and whose courage still inspires people. When Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, he made history for being the first openly gay man in American history to be voted into public office. But the rights of homosexuals weren't Milk's primary concern, as tellingly evidenced by the wide array of political coalitions he formed over the course of his tragically brief career. He fought for everyone from union workers to senior citizens, a true hero of human rights who possessed nothing but compassion for his fellow man. The story begins in New York City, where a 40-year-old Milk ponders what steps he can take to make his life more meaningful. Eventually, Milk makes the decision to relocate to the West Coast, where he and his lover, Scott Smith (James Franco), found a small business in the heart of a working-class neighborhood. Empowered by his love for the Castro neighborhood and the success of his business, Castro Camera, Milk somewhat unexpectedly begins to emerge as an outspoken agent for change. With a growing support system that includes both Scott and a like-minded young activist named Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), the charismatic Milk decides to take a fateful leap into politics, eventually developing a reputation as a leader who isn't afraid to follow up his words with actions. In short order, he is elected supervisor for the newly zoned District 5, though this seeming triumph is in fact the catalyst for a tragedy that starts to unfold as Milk does his best to forge a political partnership with Dan White (Josh Brolin), another newly elected supervisor. Over time it becomes apparent that Milk and White's political agendas are directly at odds, a revelation that puts their personal destinies on a catastrophic collision course.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Perry Seibert
As the first openly gay man to hold elected office in California, Harvey Milk served as the spokesperson for the gay rights movement in the '70s, in San Francisco, and by extension, the United States. Practically from the moment of his assassination in 1978, people have been trying to get Milk's remarkable life story onto the screen, and thanks to Gus Van Sant and Sean Penn, it was worth the wait. The movie follows the final years of Milk's life, starting when he leaves New York with his significant other, Scott Smith (James Franco), and opens a camera store in the now famous Castro District of San Francisco. He faces bigotry based on his sexual orientation, but responds with serious action, spearheading a campaign of activism that organizes the gay community into a group with genuine financial strength -- a strength Milk translates into political muscle. With his leadership, the community publicizes the unfair treatment often suffered at the hands of cops, who are occasionally physically abusive, and often can't be bothered to investigate the murders of gay men. All the while, Milk continues his attempts to win a seat on the city's Board of Supervisors, even as his devotion to politics leads to the breakdown of his relationship. Dustin Lance Black's screenplay never holds Harvey Milk up as something bigger than he was -- he's never made into a martyr or a saint. He's a heroic, but complicated, three-dimensional person, and Sean Penn rises to the occasion with an empathetic performance that never rings false. He captures the charisma and drive that made Milk a born politician just as cannily as he does the flaws that made him a difficult life partner, and the intimate moments Milk shares with Smith are just as heartfelt as the scenes where he rallies thousands of angry protestors to march on city hall. Penn also gets expert support from everyone in the cast, especially Franco, who plays Smith's loyalty as unwavering, even when the their relationship becomes so strained that he must move out. The film also benefits from a nuanced performance by Diego Luna, who plays Jack Lira, another longtime companion of Milk. Although Lira is a grandly flamboyant character, Luna never condescends to playing him as a drama queen -- his histrionics always seem to come from the character rather than from a stereotype. And Emile Hirsch shines as Cleve Jones, the brainy, energetic runaway who turns out to be Milk's political right-hand man. Of course, director Gus Van Sant matches his lead actor's total commitment to the project. He doesn't shy away from the story's occasional stabs at operatic impact, but instead employs a recurring visual motif using mirrors and reflections to help these moments achieve maximum emotional effect. We see major and minor events transpire in mirrors, windows, and other items -- the most striking of which is an argument with a police officer viewed in the reflection of a metal whistle. This visual refrain, along with the measured but consistent use of opera on the soundtrack, helps make the ending an emotional powerhouse -- even though we know right from the start how Milk's life will end. Harvey Milk embodied the concept that "all politics is personal," and by presenting the famed Mayor of Castro Street's personal and public lives with such clarity and empathy, Van Sant has made something very rare in Hollywood -- a genuinely powerful political film that works equally well as a story of personal triumph.

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Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Focus Features
[Wide Screen]
[DTS 5.1-Channel Surround Sound, Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Remembering Harvey: Meet the man known as Milk as only his closest friends could know him through revealing film clips, photos and stories!; Hollywood comes to San Francisco: join the cast and crew as they share their stories from the set; Marching for equality: sit down with key figures from Milk's life as they reflect on the marches of 1970s

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Sean Penn Harvey Milk
Emile Hirsch Cleve Jones
Josh Brolin Dan White
Diego Luna Jack Lira
James Franco Scott Smith
Alison Pill Anne Kronenberg
Victor Garber Mayor Moscone
Denis O'Hare John Briggs
Joseph Cross Dick Pabich
Stephen Spinella Rick Stokes
Lucas Grabeel Danny Nicoletta
Brandon Boyce Jim Rivaldo
Zvi Howard Rosenman David Goodstein
Kelvin Yu Michael Wong
Jeff Koons Art Agnos
Ted Jan Roberts Dennis Peron
Robert Boyd Holbrook Denton Smith
Frank M. Robinson Himself
Allan Baird Himself
Tom Ammiano Himself
Carol Ruth Silver Thelma
Hope Goblirsch Mary Ann White
Steven Wiig McConnelly
Ashlee Temple Dianne Feinstein
Wendy King Carol Ruth Silver
Kelvin Han Yee Gordon Lau
Robert Chimento Phil Burton
Ginabel Machado Lily

Technical Credits
Gus Van Sant Director
Charley Beal Art Director
Dustin Lance Black Executive Producer,Screenwriter
Bruce Cohen Producer
Danny Elfman Score Composer
Daniel Glicker Costumes/Costume Designer
Elliot Graham Editor
Bill Groom Production Designer
Barbara Hall Executive Producer
William Horberg Executive Producer
David J. Webb Asst. Director
Dan Jinks Producer
Michael London Executive Producer
Francine Maisler Casting
Chad Owens Set Decoration/Design
Bruna Papandrea Executive Producer
Harris Savides Cinematographer

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