Milk Review

Few leaders or public figures ever truly inspire confidence. Few can define themselves as part of a movement or moment inherent to the fabric of society, and fewer that truly care about what they say and how they say it. The assassination of Harvey Milk is a tragedy. He was one of the few to fall into that of true, unwavering confidence in his style of governance. His reasons for implementing change and challenging old values an inevitable breath of fresh air against the old-school suits who cared for old family values. That is what Milk did best, and director Gus Van Sant does extremely well to coax excellent performances out of his ensemble cast.  

A magnificent turn for leading man Sean Penn sees the true realisation of Milk. He was a man who had little in common with those he spoke to, aside from a true belief in their freedom to live a comfortable life. He cut through the pragmatic problems to speak openly and honestly. Penn captures that with integrity and supremely good understandings of what makes a politician, and what separates them from a movement. It is a matter of pride. Milk does not wish to garner acceptance for who he is, he does not need it. He is equal in the eyes of those who believe it, and that attitude, captured on screen, makes Milk marvellous.  

He does pay them the satisfaction of time, though. Anita Bryant features briefly, not alongside Milk, but in contrast to him. He talks of the American Dream and the hope of it all to the workers of that great nation, but is that not what every politician spoke of at the time? Richard Nixon and George McGovern had duked it out over this topic some short years before, and by then the dream of living the American way of life was long dead. Milk does not quite realise that, and it is either through the foolhardy belief in it from Van Sant, or the honest desire to rekindle the flames of such a topic. But Van Sant and Penn at least hone in on the driving force behind Milk, it is just his message beyond his activism feels similar and typical.  

Compassionate, moving and truly touching at times, Van Sant and Penn make Milk a biopic that breaks the formula, yet holds all the core, traditional values we find comfort in when experiencing the life and times of great leaders in two-hour chunks. It is open about this period of time between gay men and police brutality, and the reliance on historical footage and photos of the real world is magnificent. Its blur between life and art is seamless, and as Milk begins to narrate his life and times, we get an understanding of who he is, what he stood for, and why. Those three, simple questions are hard to answer, but Penn has no trouble answering them. 

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