Recently, this column reviewed "Frost/Nixon," which is based on a true story and set in the 1970s. In addition to documenting the historically significant interviews between David Frost and disgraced former president Richard Nixon, "Frost/Nixon" offers a perspective of the political atmosphere of the 1970s as the decade was experienced by a loyal Republican. In the same year, 2008, "Milk," also based on a true story, showcased the political atmosphere of the 1970s as it was experienced by far more liberal politicians.
"Milk" stars Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in San Francisco. This film follows his personal life and public career. The earnest activist unsuccessfully ran for office several times with his lover, Scott Smith (played by James Franco), as his hard-working campaign manager. When the increasingly popular gay icon is finally elected, Harvey realizes he will have to work with less liberal politicians, such as ex-fireman Dan White (played by Josh Brolin), an anti-gay Christian conservative. Although they try to work together, Dan succumbs to the pressures of political life, and Harvey becomes increasingly savvy. He blames more liberal politicians for his plight and ultimately murders Supervisor Harvey Milk and sitting mayor of the city, George Moscone.
"Milk" has a great screenplay which won an Academy Award. We see how Harvey and his supporters come to recognize they can exert political power if they mobilize themselves effectively. They also learn how to confront and combat anti-gay spokespeople such as former Miss America, Anita Bryant. But the film does not cast them as flawless heroes, their shortcomings are also in evidence.
The casting decisions were superb. Sean Penn won an Academy Award for his impressive work as Harvey Milk. Josh Brolin was nominated for an Oscar for his equally strong work as Dan White, who tries to respect Harvey, but ultimately cannot. James Franco is also very good as Scott, Harvey's lover.
"Milk" is an entertaining film and an important one.