First Hit: Gus Van Sant did a fantastic job of recreating the feel of the 1970s gay movement in San Francisco and with Sean Penn as Milk, the film becomes an essential link to the gay movement and events of this time.
Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk the first openly gay, “major” government office holder in the United States.
The key words here were openly gay.
Milk believed that one’s power and strength lived in the realm of being open with one's orientation versus hiding and keeping yourself in the closet. He often asked his staff and other people he recruited to gain their individual power by coming out to friends and family. By doing so he realized that having just one friend or relative who was sympathetic to the person coming out would double the number of votes on important issues.
This happened when Proposition 6 went down into defeat in the State of California. The proposition was aimed at not allowing gays to teach in schools. This was one of many different issues Milk pushed for.
The film documents his rise in the Castro district of San Francisco to be the “Mayor of The Castro” and eventually become elected to the Board of Supervisors. Harvey was effective in working with other groups to make changes in the way the city worked.
During their association on the Board, Milk made numerous attempts to assist Dan White (played by Josh Brolin) another Supervisor who was having problems getting his legislation passed. Dan felt Harvey had too much influence on the Mayor Moscone and was jealous because Harvey was getting things done. Under financial pressure and the difficulty in working with the board, Dan resigned.
He recanted his resignation the next day and wanted back on the Board of Supervisors. The Mayor under some guidance of Harvey refused to reappoint Dan. Dan, who was deeply hurt by this and ended up killing both the Mayor and Milk.
Gus did an extraordinary job of weaving real 1970’s footage into the film. It felt seamless. Sean Penn capture the spirit of Harvey and his empathetic way of recruiting people. Josh Brolin carried the conflicted Dan convincingly.
Overall: This is one of the best biographical films made about a political figure, ever.