1000 Great Films
(c) 2009, William L. Sinclair


Gus Van Sant, 2008 (9*)
Milk is a terrific and inspiring film from Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy) about San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, brilliantly played here by Sean Penn, who really captures his mannerisms. I was in the Bay Area when all this happened, and I was appalled by U.S. voters, who recalled the attitudes of the Nazis who also attacked homosexuals - and gypsies, and jazz musicians - whatever 'the religion' told them was evil. The U.S. Constitution protects the state from religious domination - religions have freedom but cannot interfere in government, and vice versa; just the way you want it. The Webster definition of bigotry begins "opposing someone primarily on the basis of religion". Read this, Anita Bryant (featured in Milk in documentary footage): If your religion preaches bigotry and hatred, maybe its time to change religions. Democracy does not give a majority the right to suppress the rights of minorities. Milk realized all this and fought for gay rights as an American Constitutionalist, so he was either going to win or American was going to lose.

First an aimless corporate worker in New York when gay men were forced into the closet, he moves to San Francisco, looking for a more open attitude. There he becomes a storeowner and facing daily bigotry even there, decides to try to change at least the city government, so that at least one city would be safe for homosexuals. We see him start his political trail by gaining the support of other minority groups, and eventually becomes the first openly gay politician to get elected, to a city council seat.

This is based on the Oscar winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, but Van Sant makes it into a mythic fable of freedom and American democratic folklore, as it should be. Much of this is due to the cast: Sean Penn won an Oscar® for best actor. Oscar®-nominee Josh Brolin as Dan White, was terrifying as the voice of middle-class morality, who resort to guns and violence when they fail to get their way. Milk has the ring of a Capra film, with normal citizens taking steps to make government listen to their rights. Best of all: it’s a true story. Everyone who believes in freedom or just great films should see this one!

Sean Penn manages to transcend his massive ego for a tour-de-force performance. His portrayal of Harvey Milk, a fearless fighter for gay rights, is simply stunning.

Equally impressive are the film's operatic overtures, strong supportive cast (especially James Franco), and picture-perfect portrait of San Francisco in the '70s and '80s.

You're right - I was in the Bay Area during all this working in Silicon Valley, Van Sant has captured it all perfectly and created a near-mythic story of Milk's life.. great stuff

If you like Van Sant, make sure you see Drugstore Cowboy

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