Anthony's Film Review
A typical biographical movie, but the story is still engaging...
Milk is like any historical film about equal rights. It centers on people who feel persecuted by existing laws and societal norms. They face prejudice and hate by others unwilling to embrace change. As neither side backs down, the conflict rages on. It would take the courage of a leader to rally the community, fight for what they believe in, and defy the odds. This kind of story has been told many times with various groups of people. With the film Milk, we have one that focuses on the gay community and a leader by the name of Harvey Milk.
Although the film is biographical, it's not a full life story. It doesn't present Milk's childhood or other aspects of his early life. It only shows us Milk's political career, the essential part of the story. Before doing so, the film begins by mentioning how this story ends. This is followed by Harvey Milk, played by Sean Penn, telling his story on a tape recorder, hoping that people will listen to it in the near future. Portions of this scene are distributed throughout the film as a narrative technique. The film also uses old video footage for the same purpose.
The story begins in 1970 when Milk moves to San Francisco. He and his new lover, Scott Smith (James Franco), settle in the Castro District and open a camera shop called Castro Camera. Milk soon expresses desire to provide equal rights for gays. He runs for San Francisco city supervisor. At first, Milk is not taken too seriously. With a beard, ponytail, and denim outfit, he is essentially a hippie trying to run for office. But he does not give up.
Over time, many supporters of gay rights, including Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) and Jack Lira (Diego Luna), join the cause. Milk also gives himself a new image by shaving his face, cutting his hair, and donning a suit. From there, he strategically gathers votes from the local gay community as well as the straight constituents. This is one of the important things to know about Milk. Even though his number one priority is gay rights, he does not forget about issues that affect everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. With these factors working for him, Milk finally becomes city supervisor in 1978, achieving the milestone of California's first gay politician.
Even so, Milk's opposition is strong. He is up against a fellow conservative city supervisor named Dan White (Josh Brolin) and a fiercely anti-gay senator named John Briggs (Denis O'Hare). There is conflict as some of Milk's ideas are frowned upon and Milk rejects other legislative proposals. Perhaps the most heated situation in the film is Proposition 6, which would make it illegal for gays to teach in California schools and allow existing gay teachers to be fired. Both sides scramble to have it passed or rejected while the entire country, not just California, watches in anticipiation. (Interestingly enough, I found the fervor of Prop 6 in the film to be quite similar to that surrounding another issue 30 years later: California's Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage, placed on the ballot as this film was being completed.)
Though Milk is not the best biographical movie I've ever seen, it still tells an engaging story. I liked how the film offers a glimpse into the world of gays, both inside and outside their metaphorical closets. In addition, I commend Sean Penn's performance. He embodies the personality of Harvey Milk just by changing the pitch of his voice and putting on a big friendly smile. Followers of Milk's legacy would be proud of this film. Here is a man with a voice, not just for the rainbow hotbed of San Francisco's Castro District but for the gay community at large.
For more information about Milk, visit the Internet Movie Database.