Harvey Milk was a 40 year old gay insurance man who moved to San Francisco and turned into a political activist for gay rights. He was very successful at attracting other gay men to the Castro street area of San Francisco and organizing them into a substantial political movement. After three attempts, he was elected to city board of supervisors of San Francisco, making him the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Once in office, he fought for a variety of liberal issues, including gay rights. His biggest victory was to lead a statewide campaign to defeat the Briggs Initiative, which would have fired all homosexual teachers.
Once in office, Harvey Milk developed a working relationship with Dan White, another city supervisor. At first this relationship was amicable, but it turned increasingly confrontational as the two men disagreed on issues. Dan White resigned as supervisor because of his frustration over low pay. Later he tried to get his job back, but the Mayor refused. On November 27, 1978, Dan White assassinated both the Mayor and Harvey Milk.
Harvey Milk's death lead to 30,000 people holding a candle light vigil at City Hall. Dan White's trial resulted in him being convicted on lessor charges and getting a light sentence that seems unreasonable considering the severity of his crimes. This light sentence sparked violent riots in San Francisco.
The movie portrays Harvey Milk as somewhat nervous, but likable, charismatic and a great speech maker. The fact that he is a likable character is important in a movie like this. Most of the gay characters in this movie are likable. Although I don't know if these people were really the same as the movie portrays them to be, the movie gives us a strong sense that they were fighting for a just cause. It would be hard to watch this movie and not be somewhat persuaded and moved.
The movie does not try to gloss over that these characters are gay and engage in homosexual acts. It tries to show the way things were.
What makes this movie a really good film that you will want to watch at least twice? Sean Penn as Milk and Josh Brolin as White both prove what outstanding actors they are. Sean Penn is truly amazing in this movie and won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Many of the supporting actors also give really good performances. Other than the acting, it is hard for me to pinpoint why I liked the movie so much. Part of it has to do with it being a historical drama, but the rest is that it is just a very interesting story.
Milk is available on DVD and is rated R.