Gus Van Sant did the amazing in 2008: he made two great, worthwhile films. It doesn't sound like such a banner year, but you really don't know exactly how big it is. The first was a stylistic guilt drama called "Paranoid Park," and the second, a better film in a lot of aspects, was "Milk." Van Sant played his cards very well. This release doesn't only work as some premium Oscar bait, but also to help repeal the anguishing hatred of gays behind Prop 8, California's way of shutting gays out of having a good, married life. Here, Van Sant takes us back to the 70's, from 1970 to 1978, and shows us a world full of the same stereotyping and hatred, in San Francisco, where Harvey Milk ran for city supervisor. Van Sant's work is not only a retro slice of life picture, but also a activist piece, where the director captures the right tone. And who better to play Milk than Sean Penn, versatile actor who has tackled many parts, an Oscar winner and a four-time Best Actor nominee, and the perfect choice for this character, who he goes at full speed ahead, in such a way where the line between Penn and Milk starts to blur. Penn is not just fantastic in the role: he is mesmerizing. The supporting work is very well done also: Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones, a man who can organize massive crowds, Diego Luna and James Franco as two of Milk's lovers, Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg, the woman who helps along Milk's campaign, and, most importantly, Josh Brolin as Dan White, who goes from pseudo-friendly to homicidal over the course of the film, in a performance that's taut, raging, and angering, that's not as good as his work in "W." as Bushie, but still a role worth noting in many ways. But I give credit to Van Sant here the most, crafting a film lover's film, one that melds archival footage so seamlessly, it is wowing. This film shows you Harvey Milk's story, and even though I don't think it is the best film of the year, it is in my mind the most important. I urge you to see this film. A
Milk has some brief sexual content, disturbing images (one of a hanging), and some language.