Rating: 3.5 stars
When Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) moved to San Francisco’s Castro district in the early ’70s, he had no desire to become a politician. He had just come out of the closet, had a dishy new boyfriend (James Franco), and was simply content to open a modest camera store and live a quiet life. Politics found him—first when the neighborhood business association refused his membership because he was gay, and later, when his camera shop became an ad hoc gathering place for the neighborhood’s young gay men, many of whom had been kicked out of their own homes.
Milk had an antic charisma, a deeply honed sense of justice, and a way of making all people—gay or straight—feel at ease in his presence. He was also smart enough to recognize the power of numbers. If the gay men organized, their buying and voting power could not be denied. He would be their organizer.
Gus Van Sant is the perfect man to direct the story of Milk’s ascension. As he proved in such films as Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, he excels at depicting the grungy, makeshift, but vital communities created...