Directed by Gus Van Sant


Although Milk is “one of the most heartfelt portraits of a politician ever made, the man himself remains just out of reach,” said David Edelstein in New York. Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, was shot to death in 1978 along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. Here he’s played by Sean Penn, who trades in his usual self-seriousness for gentleness and humanity. Yet the film, spanning the years 1970 to 1978, never sheds light on Milk’s life before his public emergence. Director Gus Van Sant seems primarily concerned with presenting him as a “psychologically upbeat” inspiration for future activists. But Milk really was inspiring, said Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. Penn’s performance grasps the key to Milk’s character as a formerly closeted man who now “lives his life completely in the open.” Milk’s energy and pragmatism should be a welcome lesson to today’s activists, said Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. California’s recent passage of a gay-marriage ban has made Milk’s subject matter unexpectedly relevant. But mostly the film is a “great slice of history, a history that really has never been told until now.”