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quick review:

Watch Sean Penn in one of his best performances, as a political gay activist. He’s meticulous, touching and while you might not cry, you’ll want to Google all about Harvey Milk.

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Director: Gus Van Sant
Running time: 128 minutes
Genres: Biography
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I had never cried as much as I did while watching I Am Sam. I was warned, and I still went ahead thinking it’s a 2 hour film. I’ll shed a few tears, what else? Tears were an understatement, is all I’ll say, for those 2 hours. So when I picked up Milk to review, I channeled out everything I had heard about the film. There’s just something else about watching a film post its Oscar hype, to be able to agree, disagree, dismiss or confirm the conclusions people made of the film. Or better so, to make your own.

Gus Van Sant’s Milk is a biopic on Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist. Sean Penn gives a powerful performance, as a 40 year-old gay man who moves to San Francisco from New York with his boyfriend Scoot Smith (James Franco). Set in the 1950s, the couple open a camera shop in the neighborhood, and before he can realize, Milk finds himself fighting for gay rights. The film captures a true essence of undercurrent of the bubbling homosexuality, and explores how San Francisco became the gay capital.

Here we see a strain in relationships, as Milk moves. After having run for Board of Supervisors, 3 years in a row, he finally gets elected, where we see him shift from being a nervous, closeted man to a public-speaking, motivational national figure. All this, however, happens at a cost. He meets eccentric lovers, who behave as pit stops for his political career: Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch), a fellow community organizer, followed by Jack Lira (Diego Luna), a Mexican-American who becomes jealous of Milk’s advancing career.

This is my first problem with the film. It relies on formulaic story-telling that pre-supposes it’s only plot-points to be a conflict between the personal and professional. On one side we have a transformation happening, we see an individual’s journey so beautifully played by Penn, but when interspersed with a preachy sub-text about neurotic relationships, it becomes a bit monotonous.

That is until we come to Dan White. One of Milk’s most crucial relationships, White was a conservative Catholic man who considered homosexuality a sin. An alcoholic, White (played by Josh Brolin, of No Country for Old Men fame) becomes Milk’s biggest and most tragic hurdle. Their complexity, and powerful whiplash of personalities is so intensely carved out, it almost swirls you in.

As a fictional biopic, the DVD has some phenomenal extras. It almost serves as a mini-visual autobiography of Harvey Milk, with a small docu called Remembering Harvey, where noted political figures of the time speak about him, deleted scenes – with a brilliant extended version of Milk’s first public speech and ‘Marching for Equality’ – a behind-the-scenes look at the various marches, protests and real-life events through San Francisco that Milk had fought for. Definitely a DVD worth investing in.

Milk isn’t about a flawless political hero. It’s a personal account of motivation, hurdles, and an imperfect yet touching story that had to be told. In any which way possible.

This review is by guest reviewer Swetha Ramakrishnan. Swetha Ramakrishnan is currently living and working in Mumbai. She's a self-confessed film enthusiast and can most likely be found talking to anyone and everyone about popular cinema and her love for SRK. Swetha Ramakrishnan also blogs at

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: small fights, but nothing bloody
  • Language: DVD is uncensored, so a few cuss words here and there
  • Nudity & Sexual content: some intimate scenes
  • Concept: A biopic on gay activist, Harvey Milk
  • General Look and Feel: Moving, celebrated and motivating

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Milk - Cast, crew, links

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Running time:
128 minutes

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