Top 365 Films – #302 – Milk (2008)

Top 365 Films - MilkDIRECTED BY: Gus Van Sant

STARRING: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, Joseph Cross, Diego Luna, Alison Pill, Victor Garber, Denis O’Hare, Stephen Spinella and James Franco

BUDGET: $20m

EARNED (Worldwide): $54.5m

AWARDS: 2 Oscars (Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay)



The story of Harvey Milk, and his struggles as an American gay activist who fought for gay rights and became California’s first openly gay elected official.


Milk is based on the true story of Harvey Milk, with it also using archived footage and statements recorded in late life to the film. Upon moving to San Francisco in 1972, 40-year-old Harvey Milk becomes a gay activist in the city’s Castro district, turning to political activism as he believes he can be a more effective voice for the gay community as a politician, which eventually after several elections he becomes the first openly gay man to be elected into political office in the United States in 1977.


Unfamiliar with the story of Harvey Milk bar the exception of the obvious (first openly gay man elected into political office in the United States), I found Milk to be a very well structured, paced and uplifting film by Gus Van Sant, with some terrific camerawork in the process as well as the production in making you feel like you’re in the 70’s of San Francisco. The film is only as good as its lead however and Sean Penn manages to give us one of his best and humane performances as Harvey Milk, a who reaches the milestone of turning forty, who grows unsatisfied with his life and after seeing what was happening around him by police persecuting the gay community and in turn campaigns for political office. In essence, Sean Penn becomes Harvey Milk through the course of the film with is traits of mannerisms and humanity. The supporting cast is good, in particular James Franco, Emile Hirsch and Josh Brolin gives a complexed and remarkable performance as Dan White, bringing some interesting questions to light of his character.


FAVOURITE SCENE: Dan White assassinates Moscone and Milk. The way that the scene is shot and carried out is just as memorable as the candle lit sequence to honour Harvey Milk that follows.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: ‘I’m not the candidate. I’m part of a movement. The movement is the candidate – there is a difference. You don’t see it. I do.’ – Harvey Milk

DID YOU KNOW?: The filming location for Harvey Milk’s business, Castro Camera, was the real storefront where the actual business had once been. At the time of filming (mid-2008), it was a gift shop called “Given”; the film crew worked with the owner of the gift shop to recreate the look of Milk’s camera store inside the space and restored it to its 2008 appearance after filming.

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