Starring: Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin
Director: Gus Van Sant
Running Time: 128 mins
Milk is an American film about the true story of gay rights activist Harvey Milk, who united the gay community of San Francisco by becoming the first openly gay elected politician in California, leading to dramatic changes in attitudes and legislation towards homosexuals in America.
This is a really interesting film, with a fantastic eye for detail, great performances, and a very well-written screenplay. I was hugely engrossed in Milk throughout, and even if it’s not the most powerful historical drama ever made, everyone who worked on it to make it such an impressive film deserves huge praise.
The big stand-out in Milk is definitely Sean Penn in the lead role. He’s not an actor that’s ever really caught my eye with a truly outstanding performance, but the way he takes on the persona of Harvey Milk so convincingly was absolutely brilliant to watch. He’s charismatic and likeable right the way throughout, but he also does brilliantly to provide an emotional depth to Milk’s personal life away from politics, and that makes him an absolutely fascinating character to watch from start to finish.
Alongside Penn, however, there’s a whole host of excellent supporting performances. In this sort of historical drama centring around one figure, supporting characters can often get overlooked, but the performances from the likes of Alison Pill, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna and Josh Brolin were so good that you were able to care just as much about their smaller characters as Harvey Milk, something that you rarely see from films of the genre.
The other great thing about this film is the screenplay. It’s not a preachy, pushy film, but rather a very well-grounded and accurate representation of a historical movement. Rather than getting bogged down in giving a big message, Milk brilliantly uses its historical fact and characters to move you, and that makes it feel so much more honest, once again giving you more reason to get engrossed in these people’s lives and root for their success.
There’s a lot I liked about this film, and I was so glad that it was such an engrossing watch, however there was one major issue that prevented me from really connecting to the cause the characters fought for.
Simply put, everything in this film feels far too easy. It’s an issue that many historical dramas about fighting for freedom have, because the lead characters have such a moral advantage over their opposition that it seems impossible for them to lose.
However, the reality of the time was that it wasn’t such an easy movement. The film skips over Milk’s struggles to get elected in its first act, and instead spends too much time focussing on his easy successes. Whilst a positive atmosphere is by no means bad, I felt that the film was missing a strong obstacle to the campaigners, meaning that I just wasn’t as emotionally touched by their relentless persistence for rights.
Overall, this is a very good film. It’s got a great screenplay, a stunning central performance, and an impressive use of historical fact to tell an engrossing story. However, it does at times feel far too easy than the reality of history, and that meant that I was never as emotionally engaged as I felt was necessary for this to be a really moving film, and that’s why Milk gets a 7.6 from me.