Oscar Reviews: Milk

Oscar Nominations (8):
– Best Picture (Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen)
– Actor (Sean Penn)
– Director (Gus Van Sant)
– Original Screenplay (Dustin Lance Black)
– Supporting Actor (Josh Brolin)
– Costume Design (Danny Glicker)
– Film Editing (Elliot Graham)
– Original Score (Danny Elfman)

In light of the ban on same-sex marriage with California’s Proposition 8, Milk became a much more significant film than that of your typical cinematic offering. Set in the late 1970s, Milk chronicles the life of the late politician, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the United States.

The film opens with archival footage of police raiding gay bars in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by the shocking 1978 announcement to the press that Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone had been assassinated. Following this somber opening sequence, Milk (Sean Penn) is shown recording his will throughout the film in the days leading up to his assassination.

Aided by his circle of friends, Milk makes the decision to run for public office. After two unsuccessful campaigns in 1973 and 1975, Milk made history when he was finally elected to San Francisco’s Board of Directors in 1977 as a city supervisor. Following his election to the board, Milk meets fellow supervisor, Dan White (Josh Brolin), and White’s conservative nature leads to a rocky relationship between the two. White’s resentment for Milk stems from the public attention Milk had received throughout his campaign for election. Brolin perfectly portrays an uneasy and flawed person who simply could not handle all the attention his counterpart (Milk) was receving. If not for Heath Ledger, Brolin would be the runaway winner for Best Supporting Actor as his performance was simply remarkable.

Milk had an ensemble of up-and-coming actors and there was seemingly no weak spot in the entire cast (although Diego Luna [as one of Milk’s lovers] got annoying at points). As Milk’s lover Scott Smith, James Franco proved he has the talent to further his career in dramatic acting and Emile Hirsch moved on from the Speed Racer debacle and gave an extremely underrated, Oscar-worthy performance as Cleve Jones. While the acting in support was magnificent, the combination of Gus Van Sant’s masterful direction and Sean Penn’s mesmerizing performance are what made Milk arguably the best film of 2008.

The tragic story of Milk did not have a very happy ending but powered by Penn’s convincing portrayal, the film gives hope to those affected by Proposition 8 that change is possible. Milk’s enthusiasm and optimism for change was no more evident than how he opened each and every speech with extreme passion as he uttered his signature line, “My name is Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you!”