Director Gus Van Sant’s biopic celebrates the life and death of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California and who, like so many challengers to the American establishment, met his fate at the barrel of a gun. For those unfamiliar with Milk’s rise or demise I’m giving little away, as the film is essentially one giant flashback from the get go, framed around a testimonial read into a microphone for posterity by Milk himself (Sean Penn).
Van Sant has something of an uneven track record, straddling experimental and mainstream works with redundant exercises such as his shot-for-shot remake of Psycho seeming singularly self-satisfying. One suspects that the story of Harvey Milk is particularly close to this director’s heart, but rather than a runaway didactic history lesson, or gay rights manifesto writ large, Milk is very much an accessible journey driven by a remarkably charismatic performance from Sean Penn.
Despite the underlying sense of inevitability from the start, it’s not a maudlin experience, but an upbeat one which, even in its darkest hour, is a rallying cry for justice for all. Right-on! But one suspects that it will take more than a film, and a great many more Harvey Milks, until we can all look within ourselves and find no prejudice there. 4 stars
Deleted scenes that show Penn literally clowning around and three featurettes about the making the film and Mr Milk himself. A couple of trailers are thrown in too. Overall, it’s more a saucer of milk than a crate of creamy gold top. 3 stars
Stars Sean Penn, James Franco, Josh Brolin
Director Gus Van Sant
Distributor Momentum Pictures Home Entertainment
Format DVD & Blu-ray
Released June 8