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His life changed history. His courage changed lives. MILK

Mar 16, 2009 (Updated Dec 14, 2010)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Everything.  It is a powerful, moving movie, destined to be a classic.

Cons:Not everyone will watch it.

The Bottom Line: Touching and terrible; this movie is a tribute to a man who belongs in the company of Martin Luther King and Ghandi.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.

MILK (2008) Directed by Gus Van Sant

Dan White: Society can't exist without the family.
Harvey Milk: We're not against that.
Dan White: Can two men reproduce?
Harvey Milk: No, but God knows we keep trying.

Gus Van Sant is a brilliant openly gay director with great credits (My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting, and Finding Forrester).  Dustin Lance Black is a gay writer, who, like Harvey Milk's example, was a kid from San Antonio, Texas, who was given hope knowing that an openly gay man had been elected to public office.  It is very fitting that they were the men who brought this story to light.

Harvey Milk starts the movie dictating a letter "to be read in the event I am assassinated."  This letter provides the structure of the movie.  Interspersed with historical footage, it tells the story of how an awkward Insurance Actuarial went on to become the first elected Openly Gay Public Official in America.

Harvey Milk (Sean Penn, Won the Oscar for the Role.) seduced a man eighteen years his junior, Scott Smith (James Franco, Won the Independent Spirit Award for the Role).  Together, they decided Harvey needed a change, to come out of the closet, and make something of his life.  They moved to San Francisco, living on savings, and eventually opened Castro Cameras on his last $1000.

Gays in the 1970s were still subject to police harassment, public rudeness, and open discrimination.  Harvey thought it was a time for a change.  At first, it was local grassroots.  The liquor store across the way was rude to Harvey because he was gay.  So Harvey spoke to all his friends, and the gays took their business elsewhere.  Gay friendly businesses thrived, homophobic ones died, and the gays of San Francisco created their own community; the Castro.  Harvey was the unofficial mayor.  And when San Francisco changed its laws so that each district elected its own supervisor, Harvey saw his chance.  He ran...and lost.

He ran again.  And lost again.  But he got more votes, and he learned a lot.  This became his life for the next several years.  It was fun, it was exciting, it was empowering.  Unfortunately, it was hard on his relationship as well.

Harvey had a catch phrase "I am Harvey Milk, and I want to recruit you."  He recruited many.   Dick Pabich (Joseph Cross), Danny Nicolletta (Lucas Grabeel), Michael Wong (Kelvin Yu) and many others grew from regulars at the store to campaign workers.  Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) was just a cute hustler, but Harvey managed to break through his cynicism and self interest and involve him in the larger movement.  He tried to get more "important" backing, but David Goodstein (Howard Rosenman) publisher of The Advocate, was too timid to back him.  He felt the time was not right.  He was wrong.

Harvey understood that nothing is quite so good at promoting a cause as the right enemy.  His was Anita Bryant.  A former Miss Oklahoma and a spokesman for the Florida Orange Growers Association, her anti homosexuality crusade galvanized America.  It certainly galvanized Harvey Milk.  While his relationship disintegrated, his career solidified.
Scott left, Jack Lira (Diego Luna) stepped in, and the queers took to the streets.    Enter Dan White (Josh Brolin, Nominated for the Oscar for the Role.) a catholic, conservative ex cop.  While Scott had been his campaign manager, Jack was too unstable and needy to assume the role, and Harvey brought in a lesbian named Anne Kronenberg (Alison Pill).  She got Harvey badly needed endorsements from the papers.  He was on the right track.
Harvey eventually was elected.  The first Gay Public Official in America.  And his campaign continued rolling forward, because this was not about his own personal power, but about making the changes.

However, one of the toughest parts of his job was building a coalition with fellow Supervisor Dan White.  Courted for political dangerous jobs, he was not willing to put up when it came to time to vote.

Anita Bryant won and overturned the Dade County antidiscrimination law, and Harvey looked for ways to draw her in.  He got them.  State Senator John Briggs (Denis O'Hare, who is in reality openly gay) proposed a bill to not only remove homosexuals from teaching positions, but those who associate with them.  Billed Proposition 6, it was a watershed of civil rights.

Of course, with biographical movies, we know how they end.  Needless to say, this one ended badly.  However, something Harvey understood is that those who are martyred still serve the cause, as witnessed by his testimony from beyond the grave, the infamous "Read Only in the Event of my Assassination" tape.

The death of Harvey Milk united the gay community, and showed the straights that they could not ignore the problem and have it go away.  It drew a clear picture of the danger of allowing anyone's civil rights to be compromised.  Harvey's call for gays to come out of the closet, so that people would see that they knew at least one would make it harder to abridge their rights.  His practice of uniting and putting our money where our rights are taught a valuable lesson to Coors, and to the Florida Orange growers.

Of course, a movie, no matter how compelling the story is only as good as the actors.  James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin were all brilliant.  But Sean Penn was beyond brilliant, and into the realm of Genius.  As powerful as his performance in Mystic River was, this is without a doubt, the finest performance of his career.  For the volatile and heterosexual actor to so completely capture the gentle passion of this amazing man is nothing short of a masterpiece.  He earned that Oscar.

Gus Van Sant was nominated for Best Director.  Danny Glicker was nominated for costuming; I lived through those years; yes, that was how we looked.  Stop laughing.  Danny Elfman was nominated for the score; no surprise there.  Dustin Lance Black won the Oscar for his screenplay.  It is no wonder this movie was up for the Oscar.  It is a pity they can't have a tie.

What does this movie mean to me?  It was hard for me to watch.  I watched Harvey Milk's career with rapt fascination.  I boycotted Coors (easy for an underage kid) and orange juice.  When Dan White killed the mayor and Milk, it was like a hammer blow to my stomach.  The twins were only months old, and that was all that kept me from hitching to California.  When the Twinkie defense netted Dan White a mere five years for manslaughter, I was outraged.

I want everyone in America to watch this movie.  This man is in the same company as Martin Luther King; a martyr of Civil Rights.  If you are not gay, if you did not live through these times, you can't imagine the full scope of what it means.  I can hear you saying, "I'm black; I know oppression.  I am Asian, or Hispanic, or Jewish.  I know what bigotry means."

You don't know what it means to risk losing the love and support of your family if they discover you are black.

"Without hope, life's not worth living."  Harvey Milk.

Gay Movies:

La Mission***Burnt Money***8: The Mormon Propo$ition***In The Flesh***The Sensei***The 24th Day***Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon***ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction***East Side Story***Dorian Blues***Creatures From the Pink Lagoon***Satyricon***Ice Men***Richard O'Briens Rocky Horror Tribute Show***Prom Queen***The Kids are All Right***Between Love and Goodbye***The Mudge Boy***That Man: Peter Berlin***A Single Man***Almost Normal***Outing Riley***Outrage!***Law of Desire***Love is the Devil***Cowboy Junction***Horror in the Wind***Bedrooms and Hallways***Cut Sleeve Boys***Big Eden***For A Lost Soldier***Midnight Cowboy***Redwoods***The Massuer***Boy Culture***Breakfast With Scot***The Fluffer***Flesh***Little Ashes***L.I.E. ***Dorian Gray***9 Dead Gay Guys***Shank***I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry***Beautiful Boxer***Bangkok Love Story***Schoolboy Crush***Shelter***Back Soon***Dog Tags***Theft***The Mulligans***The Velvet Goldmine***Swashbuckler***Smoke Signals
***C'Thulhu***Milk***The Picture of Dorian Gray***Brideshead Revisited***Notes on a Scandal***RocknRolla***Mamma Mia!
***Priscillia: Queen of the Desert***The History Boys***Brokeback Mountain***The Broken Hearts Club*** Yaji and Kita: Midnight Pilgrims ***Surge of Power ***In & Out ***Mambo Italiano ***Touch of Pink ***To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar ***Wolves of Kromer ***Rocky Horror Picture Show ***Taboo ***Deathtrap 

Gay Themed Series:

Spartacus: Blood and Sand
Dante's Cove
Carnivale Season One
Carnivale Season Two
Rome Season One
Rome Season Two
True Blood
True Blood: Season Two
The Book of Daniel: The Complete Series
Torchwood: Children of Earth
Torchwood: Season One

Gay Animation:

Pirate's Booty***Sensitive Pornograph***Loveless: The Complete Series***Loveless: Hope on the Run***Loveless: Soul of Chains***Loveless: Lost and Found***Embracing Love: A Cicada in Winter***Embracing Love: Cherished Spring ***Stonewall & Riot***Drawn Together Movie: The Movie***Drawn Together: Season 2***Drawn Together: Season 3

Recommend this product? Yes

Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Fit for Friday Evening
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children up Ages 8

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