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Milk

In a structured society there are always role models to whom people gather.  Becoming a focal point for various causes, these anointed icons have had the ability to galvanise debate.  Such was Harvey Milk, who in 1970’s San Francisco, became the first openly gay elected official in U.S. politics.  That his short career was felled by an assassin’s gun proved no impediment to his lasting influence.
Moving to San Francisco with his partner Scott (James Franco), Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) opened a camera store on Castro Street.  Gradually becoming a meeting place for its local gay populace, Harvey listened to tales of violence and legally sanctioned intimidation with revulsion.  Determined to fight for the rights of this unfairly marginalised group, his activism led him to become the country’s first openly gay politician.  Moving from the bigotry of the streets to the machinations of council, his stoic conviction against the tide of hate within its chambers created a legacy even he could never have envisioned.
Crafting a solid career on the fringes of Hollywood, director Gus Van Sant finally bites the apple of commercial film-making to great effect.  Although following the standard biopic formula, he ensures his characters rise above its clichés.  Perhaps presented a little too much of a white knight, Harvey Milk’s general ethos of creating hope for his friends comes across effectively.  While it’s never possible to project a true depiction of any individual, it manages to convey the use of his elected powers and the personal hardships such responsibility entailed.
What Van Sant cleverly does is to fully immerse the viewer into Milk’s world.  Using archival footage, he instantly conjures up the mood of the era and of the many battles that had to be fought.  Most potent are the rantings from extreme evangelists who, via these old films, are damned by their ignorant statements. The excellent performances are topped by a bravura turn from Penn who deserves the accolades of his many recent acting nominations.  His scenes with Franco also powerfully express the enduring partnership that can be found in any relationship.  Josh Brolin as Milk’s political nemesis gives a finely balanced rendition of someone trapped by his own beliefs.
Milk is a very interesting snapshot of a time where the gay rights movement finally found their voice.  With Milk’s presence and untimely demise, it was able to continue to agitate for change against those who were reluctant to accept the basic rights such changes would deliver. 
Rating out of 10:  8 

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