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A 2008 movie directed by Gus Van Sant.

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"Without Hope Life's Not Worth Living...So Give Them Hope"

  • Apr 14, 2009
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Contrary to what you might have been led to believe, Harvey Milk was not one of the most influential politicians who ever lived. He assumed public office in his late forties. He held that position less then a year before he was killed by a fellow politician. Truthfully, if you were to look at the biggest thing he accomplished, it would be that he got people to start picking up their pets droppings in public. Yes, the biggest law he helped get pasted involved poop. So if this was his greatest claim to fame why would Gus Van Sant make a biopic of this man, simply named "Milk." Well, it's easy: Because Harvey Milk was an unconventional man who lived an unconventional life. He was the first openly gay man elected to public office.

The fact that he was more politician then activist helped solidify his reputation. Milk (Sean Penn) came from a poor background and didn't run for public office until late into his life, when local hatred inspired him to change things. He ran a few times unsuccessfully, which cost him his personal life as well as his boyfriend, Scott (James Franco). When he was elected as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors you could hear the celebrated cries from gay men and women throughout the world: Someone who understood them and their problems was finally part of "the machine." So inspirational is this fact alone that a young gay teenager in a wheelchair even finds the strength to keep on living after contemplating suicide.

So while Milk's biggest claim to fame may be that he solved the poop problem, as you can see he is legend in San Francisco. This movie will help you understand why. Rather then give us a three-hour biopic though, Van Sant only briefly mentions Milk's past and only hints at the controversial events after his murder. This is a movie about Milk's political run, most noticbly his fight to defeat Proposition 6, a bill that, if passed, would discriminate against homosexuals and force them out of teaching positions at schools. Some people may make comparisons to the recent Proposition 8 at this point, but the reality is the laws are two very different things, with very different debates going on between them. Besides, even this topic isn't delved into too deeply.

The movie is mainly about relationships. Milk's relationships with men in his life. His relationship to the public. At the core of the movie is his relationship with Dan White (Josh Brolin), a conservative who often clashes with Milk on various subjects, and who would eventually become Milk's assassin. Their relationship is tense, with enough love/hate emotions going back and forth to make it all the more unsettling. Hopefully a sequel will be made so that the Dan White character can be analyzed some more. For now though, this will have to do. When I told my friends at church I saw this movie they were surprised. They wanted to know why I would go see a movie about people who were so obviously living in sin.

I told them that this was hypocritical. We all obviously live in sin. We don't try, we just do sometimes. And while the movie had one too many sex scenes for my personal comfort, the theme of giving people hope and inspiration is a story that has worked many times before. It worked in "The Ten Commandments," it worked in "Schindler's List," and it works here. Is it a perfect movie? No. It has too many little problems that add up to make it that. But it is one of the best films of the year, and it's certainly going to get people talking. Not so much about homosexuality, but about hope, love, and compassion. Ironically enough, even though most churches will boycott this movie, these are many of the key things Jesus himself preached.

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More Milk (2008 movie) reviews
review by . March 07, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
One extraordinary performance in one fine movie, which has the usual self-congratulatory blemishes
Milk is Sean Penn's best-sustained performance since Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I'm not joking and I mean it as high praise.       Penn, at least in those movies of his I've seen, starts strongly and then dives head first into that famous Penn intensity that some consider acting with a capital "A." In Milk, Penn early establishes Milk as smart, empathetic, self-aware, even gentle, playful and lovable. Penn doesn't lose those qualities, and adds …
review by . March 01, 2009
By all accounts, Harvey Milk was a breath of fresh air, the light in the room, the life of the party. By "all accounts", I mean that's what Dennis Peron said when I asked him.     I had the interesting experience of staying at the home of one of Harvey's friends and fellow activists in the Castro during the filming of the movie. Peron makes only a very brief appearence in the movie, but he was very excited about it and (when I could get him to stop talking about the medical marijuana …
review by . November 18, 2009
I first heard the name Harvey Milk about a few years ago when a new high school for gay teens was being opened in Manhattan and stirred a lot of controversy.  That school was named after Harvey Milk.  The news said that he was an openly gay politician from San Franscisco. I was a little remiss at the time because when I hear somebody mentioned who I know nothing about, I usually research them at a minimum on Wikipedia.  I failed and the name Harvey Milk was filed deep in my brain …
Quick Tip by . August 29, 2009
Amazing movie. Sean Penn was perfect. What a great biopic tribute to a great man.
review by . March 09, 2009
If you've ever seen a biopic of Martin Luther King Jr. or John F. Kennedy (or his brother), you're probably familiar with the standard arc: the hero as a child, then a struggling young adult, the sensitive woman who stood by his side, etc.  Milk immediately distinguishes itself by starting at a point when the main character, Harvey Milk, is already a middle-aged middle management flunky. Where did he come from? What's his family like? Did he pass A.P. Calculus in high school? We don't know. …
review by . April 11, 2009
Sean Penn does it again and easily delivers one of his best performances bringing to life a character and a man we no longer have, and may never see again. This is a cast filled with genuine legends like Penn & Brolin, and up and coming megastars such as Emile Hirsch and James Franco. Each and every cast member seems to give it their all in keeping loyal to their played roles character in order to play an honest homage to this legendary figure. Gus Van Sant, is a relatively unknown Director …
review by . March 26, 2009
I have to say honestly that when I learned Sean Penn would play Harvey Milk in this film, I had great trepidation.  Don't get me wrong; I'm a huge fan of Sean Penn.  Anyone who can create the character he plays in Dead Man Walking and also be the Sam of I Am Sam is just brilliant.  But a gay politician???  Sean Penn??    And yet... Penn is brilliant once again.  One of the great aspects of this tightly woven drama is the interspersing of real, not re-created, …
review by . May 17, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
This is an important movie. I feel like everyone should see this now. Unfortunately I didn't know much about Harvey Milk before seeing this movie but wow, what an important and beautiful person he was! And what a tragic way for his life to end. I will admit it, the ending made me cry.    For some reason it took me a bit to get into the movie but once I was into it I was INTO it. Movies are always wonderful to watch but when they are based on real people they become something …
review by . December 14, 2008
Still from
I just saw Milk at the alumni get-together this afternoon. Afterwards, one of Harvey's colleagues and fellow SF supervisor during his tenure, Carol Ruth Silver, did a little talk about the film's depictions. She said the film was right-on in its depictions of Harvey and of that 1970s era in San Francisco.   One of the surprising things Silver revealed was that Dan White had also targeted her on the morning of the Moscone-Milk assassinations at City Hall. After the first two assassinations, …
review by . March 19, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
MILK is a biopic about Harvey Milk, a homosexual political activist who moved back to San Francisco in 1972 and after several losing campaigns was eventually elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. The film is a pasteurized biopic that begins on Harvey Milk's (Sean Penn's) birthday and his move to San Francisco with his then lover, Scott Smith (James Franco). Upon arriving in the city, the couple opens a camera …
About the reviewer
Kevin T. Rodriguez ()
Ranked #57
Kevin T. Rodriguez is an aspiring film journalist. He's more comfortable typing a review then doing an on-camera appearance, but he loves doing the occasional rant. Whether it be on movies, eBay, or comics, … more
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About this movie


Director Gus Van Sant brings to the screen the epic journey of one man and the start of a movement. Written by Dustin Lance Black the story of Harvey Milk, California's first openly gay elected official, a San Francisco supervisor who was assassinated, on November 27, 1978, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone by San Francisco Supervisor Dan White.
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Director: Gus Van Sant
Genre: Drama
Release Date: November 26, 2008
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: March 10, 2009
Runtime: 2hrs. 8min.
Studio: Focus Features
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