By Adam Frazier

After moving to San Francisco, 40-year-old Harvey Milk became a Gay Rights activist and political hopeful. On his third attempt, he was elected to San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977, making him the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the United States.

From director Gus Van Sant (“Good Will Hunting”) and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (“Big Love”), “Milk” is the first fictional feature to explore the private aspects of Harvey Milk’s personal life and career. Though Milk has been the subject of several books, as well as the Academy Award-winning documentary feature, “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984), it is in this film that his humanity is brought to the forefront – with the help of Sean Penn.

Throughout the film’s 128-minute length, Penn makes sure the vulnerability, insecurity, empathy and pure determination of Harvey Milk are impeccably displayed. Penn never creates a perfect superhero but instead embodies a multifaceted individual who became a crucial part of the Gay Rights movement.

Milk had a habit of opening speeches with the line, “My name is Harvey milk, and I want to recruit you.” He was a man who sought out others and had lengthy discussions and conversations in order to better understand them. In an impassioned speech, Milk reminded the country of the truths it was founded on. “All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.”

While the film is anchored by Sean Penn’s powerful performance, “Milk” is one of the more well-written, directed and acted films to grace cinemas in a long time. 2008 has been a wonderful year for film and performances, and no doubt has “Milk” quickly climbed to the top of the list. It’s a triumphant historical drama that delves into the life of a man every bit as important as Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy, but seldom known outside of the Gay and Lesbian community.

Much like Ron Howard’s “Frost / Nixon,” this film immediately submerges you in atmosphere of ‘70s America. Everything on display in “Milk” has a subtle charm to it, even Josh Brolin’s stifling portrayal of fellow San Francisco Supervisor Don White. White’s family-oriented straight-laced homophobia fuels the ear-to-ear grins and never-ending humanity of Penn’s Milk.

“Milk” is no doubt Van Sant’s best film since 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” though without Sean Penn’s award-worthy performance, I doubt it would amount to more than your average biographical feature.

Even if you have no interest in the subject matter, “Milk” is an inspiring and important motion picture that should be seen. It’s a film everyone can take something positive from, and in this day and age, that is a rarity in itself.

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