85%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

Milk blurs the line between character and autobiography and shines for it.

Early in the film, Harvey Milk leans into a recorder and says, “I was called the mayor of Castro street, or I may have invented the term myself.”  As he speaks with a sly smile, the camera doesn’t cut to a traditional close up, it lingers on Harvey, alone in sparsely lit kitchen, sharing his thoughts to a machine, and not a person.  In that moment, we learn everything we need to know about Harvey, and to an extension, Milk as a movie itself.

The difficult thing in judging Milk, scratch that. The impossible thing, is to separate the movie from the political cause it represents.  So often it’s easy to group a movie by its merits, and nothing else, but what do you do when it’s impossible to separate the cause from the merits.  Luckily in Milk, the auteur Gus Vant Sant shows us he’s not only the most versatile filmmakers in the world, but one of the most confident.  Being a gay man, Van Sant could of made a by the movies simply praising Milk and his unlikely band of merry men parading through the Castro like a 1960’s Robin Hood, but doesn’t, because that’s not what Milk represents.

Gay rights is a decision that cause normal people to take extreme stances.  Citizen Kane was made to argue against the control of print media by William Randolph Hearst,  Network was written to take on the stance of the sinking of Mainstream Media.  All the Kings Men was made to tackle corruption, but none of these conflict with people’s morality, and to the extent, their rights as they analyze the movie.  Normally when you get movies with a strong moral bent, the movie takes one side and slants that way, since you’re only going to get one side to see the movie anyways.

But Van Sant, with an incredible script by Dustin Lance Black love to linger.  Every character is three dimensional, showing their flaws along with their strength. Characters do not face adversity with moral fortitude.  People are angry, people are fierce.  The world is on fire and showing these people as characters, instead of caricatures elevates Milk to a level not often occupied by message flicks.  The scene Marching on the Castro after Anita Bryant wins her general election is filled with bombastic fury and emotion, riveting the screen on fire as you focus on who gay rights affect, instead of whose right and wrong.   Even the villain Dan White is fully fleshed by Dan White, showing a very conflicted character that struggles against generational idealogy and his own political future that’s quickly sinking in quick sand.    Its a bold and unpopular choice, but the right one to tell this story.

You watch Milk because you have an opinion on this issue and you want that reassured, whether through the message in the film, or the stance that you refuse to believe in.  Most people are surprised to see a well rounded and even handed film that captures more of the city and time line as a character than most movies than dream to achieve.

The movie is sometimes jarring going from gorgeous cinematography, to hand held and documentary features. While it works well as a narrative, there are times it takes you out of the movie.  The movie does also hammer some of the same personal points with Harvey’s personal life again and again, that did not need to be repeated, but that being said these are small qualms on an otherwise stellar film, and it certainly deserved to be rated as a best picture nominee.

When researching this story, Lance Black was lucky that someone passed his script to Van Sant, instead of almost anyone else. It’s hard as good as the script is, to see most other directors be able to breathe so much life into each and every scene.

The point of Milk is not to change, or let you know how you feel.  It’s about telling you about a transcendent part of culture and history. It’s sharing the story of the changing American landscape.  It’s hard to call this movie acting, since it feels so natural.  The pacing organic.  Milk is a triumph, both in modern times, and hopefully in the years to come.

Milk is available on streaming services, Blu Ray, and DVD.

Why should you see this?
This may be Gus Van Sant’s best movie, and that’s saying something.

Why should you own this?
You want to learn more about writing and acting in a movie than you’ll learn in most introductory classes.

Why you shouldn’t watch this.
You’re not into issue movies with a long run time.


Movie: Milk
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writer: Dustin Lance Black
Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco
Released: 2008


About The Author

Creator / Managing Editor

David Postma is the creator, co-managing editor, and writer for Filmtakeout. After receiving an Associates Degree in Journalism from Grand Rapids Community College in 2006, he attended Columbia in Chicago where he graduated in 2010 with a Bachelors in Film. Dave interned at Lionsgate Studios in 2008 where he worked in both the Television department and the New Media department. Dave also runs a production company, Beyond the Horizon, which helped to produce "Weed Road", a hit reality show on the Discovery channel. He currently assists with Global Benefits LLC in financing for commercial, real estate, and entertainment ventures; and he recently became Chief Operating Officer at M6 International where he assists both in financing structures for the company and helping assist overseeing productions of entertainment and commercial projects across the company stratosphere. Dave also sits on the board of directors for Downbeat Collective, a non profit dedicated to creating artistic endeavors to help provide funding to non profit organizations of various need.