R1 - America - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Adam Palcher (13th April 2009).
The Film

The biopic of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into office, is full of inspiration, surprise and heart. Though Gus Van Sant’s past few experimental efforts "Elephant" (2003), "Last Days" (2005) and "Paranoid Park" (2007) have been some of the most painful experience put to celluloid, he is also the guy who made "Good Will Hunting" (1997). I understand Van Sant’s experimental side, but I cannot embrace it. He is a very hit or miss director, so it was an overwhelming surprise to have him come back to the mainstream and make a real movie, with real emotion.

The film is narrated by Harvey Milk himself, based from a recorded living will he made if he were ever to die by assassination. The story of "Milk" begins with Sean Penn playing the title character on his 40th birthday approaching Scott (James Franco) in a subway for sex. Being frustrated with his life they decide to move to San Francisco to a make something of himself. Milk becomes an avid civil rights leader, mainly focusing on gay rights, running for City Supervisor multiple times only to become the first openly gay man elected into office.

The story is what you would expect any biopic would be like, but you don’t come see this movie for the story. You see it for what the story represents, and the history that Harvey Milk made with nothing but a lot of heart and the willingness to stand up for what he believes in. The little man rises up in hard and threat filled times, organizing marches, gathering in city squares and having control of a government that would eventually kill him.

Penn is a true star in all forms of acting, so diverse, so passionate. He can play any role that is put in front of him and will probably get an Oscar nod for his portrayal as Harvey Milk. Along side him is a slue of young terrific actors that are sure to be legendary, if they choose the right roles. Emile Hirsch, and the always-fantastic Josh Brolin are two of my favorite actors out there today and almost never disappoint. Brolin’s portrayal as Dan White will make you wonder where he disappeared to for 15 years. Though James Franco is awful as Harry Osbourne in the "Spider-Man" film (2002-2007), he is dynamite as Harvey’s boyfriend Scott Smith, proving he can act opposite Penn and hold his own. The acting, twisted with an inspirational story, really makes this a perfect biopic.

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black grew up Mormon and is openly gay (along with Van Sant), suffering through a conservative childhood he looked to activist Milk as a hero and way to open up to his homosexuality. Writing for the show “Big Love” (2006-Present) and other many various gigs, Black is a smart, witty screenwriter who understands content and what it takes to make an inspiring story. He writes what’s personal to him and hopes his voice gets heard, not only as a gay man, but a lover of storytelling, as well.


In this standard version of the film we get an anamorphic widescreen presentation of 1:85:1, everything looks as it should be and the standard DVD version actually brings out the grittiness of footage from the 70’s that Van Sant mixes in with the film, making them even more effective. There is a Blu-Ray version of the film as well projecting 1080p picture that is sure to dwarf the standard.


Presented in either English or French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound this film is a respectable job that sounds great through the speakers. I didn’t notice any level problems and with a biopic like this there is nothing really to “show off “ when it comes to sound.
Subtitles are presented in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish, and French


Universal has released this film with a collection of deleted scenes and three featurettes.

A total of 3 deleted scenes from the film with a total run time of 3 minutes and 43 seconds. The scenes are named “Recurring Dream”, “Jack Throws Pottery” and “Harvey The Clown”. None of the scenes would have added much to the film itself and we’re rightfully kept out.

"Hollywood Comes to San Francisco" featurette is next, this is your run of the mill behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film. You get cast and crew interviews and on location mostly praising Van Sant. The featurette is well done and serves its purpose, the run time is 14 minutes 32 seconds.

"Remembering Harvey" is another featurette with interviews of Harvey’s real life colleagues and associates talking about Harvey himself and how he affected their lives. A nice and well-done featurette, giving a brief glimpse into Harvey’s life with a run time of 13 minutes 31 seconds. I’d suggested renting the documentary "The Times Of Harvey Milk" (1984) to get a fully realized documentary about the man himself.

"Marching for Equality" is a quick 7 minute 58 second featurette of the two staged demonstration scenes, showing the scale of something that big and the historical accuracy that needs to be represented, as well.


The Film: A- Video: B Audio: B Extras: C Overall: B+


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