When I watch a movie like Milk, it makes me look at myself and my own talents (whatever they may be). Everyone involved with this movie are true artists down to the core, dedicated to their craft and their work. And we see that in Milk. Directed by Gus Van Sant, we get an intimate portrayal of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to major public office, and how his life rocked a city to its core. What’s even more astonishing is how this story remains relevant today, given the current political landscape. Masterfully portrayed by Sean Penn, we see Milk as a man eager to do his city and his people right. As one might expect, he faces a host of challenges in this journey, and it’s an absolutely amazing one. Predictably, there’s more after the synopsis.
His life changed history. His courage changed lives. In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. His victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans. Sean Penn stars as Harvey Milk under the direction of Gus Van Sant in Milk, filmed on location in San Francisco from an original screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, and produced by Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen. Milk’s platform was and is one of hope – a hero’s legacy that resonates in the here and now.
What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? I’m not sure, to be honest. When I come across a movie such as this, one with such power and such magnitude, one that’s so relevant to our current state, it makes me hope that people will see it. And, believe me, this is one movie that should be seen. Milk is an complete triumph from beginning to end, completely riveting and impossible to turn away from. It’s a movie that, I believe, has the ability to change how people think and, hopefully, open their eyes. There’s a dramatic moment where Milk encourages all the closeted gays to come out to their friends and family, so everyone can say that they know someone who’s gay, and the far-reaching implications of that is staggering and powerful. It’s such a bold moment in the movie, too, particularly when this results in one of his close friends coming out to his parents. Milk firmly plants himself into the history books and, boy, does he deserve his spot.
It befuddles me that people don’t even know that gay people have a history, decades of oppression, of trying to get equal rights. It also confuses me when people say that since homosexuality is a “choice,” there is no real history there. It angers me actually that people still believe homosexuality is a choice when it’s obviously not. This is a topic I could go on and on about, but, since this is a review of Milk, I’ll leave my disdain at that and continue with the review.
Where was I? The movie! That’s right! Milk, as I mentioned earlier, has a tremendous amount of talent both behind and in front of the camera. Penn is absolutely dynamite as the title character, allowing us the follow him for eight years until his tragic end. Oddly enough, while we’ve seen talk about the cast and crew of the film, any advertisement I’ve seen has always emphasized the actual story itself over the cast and crew, emphasizing the importance of this man’s life and, believe me, it’s an important story. It’s a pretty eye-opening one, in fact, one that even I was new to, like many other people. The general consensus is, for the most part, the story of Harvey Milk is known, but not well-known, but I hope that changes here. More importantly, I hope it really opens the eyes of the people who watch this movie to see the struggles that happen, and still are happening, right under their noses every day. This film does an excellent job at encapsulating the struggles the gay community has endured and continues to endure today. Again, I could go on and on about how hypocritical this world can be, especially to the gay community, but that’s for another soapbox at another time.
Outside of Penn, I found the majority of the cast involved really put everything they had into this movie. To cite a couple specific performances, I thought Franco pulled a great multi-layered performance as Scott and Josh Brolin was gripping as the slowly unhinging San Francisco Supervisor Dan White. To counter, I thought the weakest performance belonged to Diego Luna’s campy and one-dimensional turn as Jack, one of Milk’s lovers.
Regardless of that, I still consider Milk to be a brilliantly put together movie nearly in all respects. Whether it’s the tight script, the superb acting, or the excellent choices made by the director, especially when it came to splicing together film footage and actual candid footage of San Francisco and the Castro. Sant’s use of archival footage proves to be incredibly effective, especially video of the horrifying police raids on gay bars or the footage of hate rhetoric being spewed by politicians at the time. There’s some truly shocking content in there that really puts perspective in what this movie, and Harvey Milk, was trying to accomplish at the time, why he was so dedicated to fight. And all of this is artfully put together by the director, creating a vivid picture of the life and times of Harvey Milk. The majority of the characters feel fleshed out and real, making the impact of the finale all that more emotional and absolutely stunning. If the finale of this movie doesn’t move you to tears, then you must be made of stone! It’s quite obvious this movie is a labor of love for the crew involved.
Milk is an eye-opening film that, while not perfect, does deserve the acclaim and awards it garnered since its release. A stunning movie that provides an inspiring history lesson, Milk is definitely a movie that deserves to be seen. It’s an important part of history, a history that many know nothing about, and a story that needs to be heard. While I’m sure my review was scatter-shot and lacking of any real flow, I want to make sure my recommendation for this movie is clear. Milk is a Must See event, a required history lesson masterfully executed and impossible to resist.
Universal Home Entertainment has given Milk an adequate release on the high definition Blu-ray format. It’s not overflowing with extras or anything, but there’s sufficient material to go through once you’ve enjoyed the movie. Thankfully, Universal has seen fit to give Milk an excellent video transfer, near flawless. While the archival footage does look quite terrible compared to the other footage, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, as it preserves the prosperity of that ancient footage. The audio transfer is just as excellent, coming in crystal clear and quite impressive. Whether a quiet moment between two lovers or the sound of a booming crowd, every last moment is as clear as can be.
The extras are adequate for this release, as it seems obvious a double-dip is in the future for Milk. The first extras is “Remembering Harvey,” a short look at the man himself. Following that is “Hollywood Comes to San Francisco,” which gives a quick look at the production of Milk. And, lastly, “Marching for Equality” looks at the marches seen in the movie and the original events that inspired them. And that’s it. Roughly 35 minutes of bonus material and that’s it. Yes, there’s some BD-Live functionality, and maybe more will come via BD-Live on the Blu-ray’s release date, but this still feels a bit hollow.
Regardless of the adequate, if somewhat underwhelming, bonus extras, the Blu-ray release of Milk is a great release. The main feature itself is an absolute powerhouse of a movie. Moving and inspiring, Milk provides a harsh truth at the injustices still inflicted on the gay community even today, and why things should change. Not only is the movie’s message one of inspiration, but so is that of the movie itself. The performances are absolutely stellar with Sean Penn leading a great cast. Directed by Sant, nearly everyone gets a chance to shine and have their part of the story told. While I have a gut feeling that Milk will be seeing a new release down the line, thanks to all the recent awards the movie has won, I still believe this movie is a Must Own. It’s just a great film, one that is both relevant and hopeful for the future.
Milk arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on March 10th, 2009.