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Milk (2008)

Sean Penn, Emile Hirsch, ... | FROM L TO R: SEAN PENN, ALISON PILL, AND EMILE HIRSCH
Image credit: Phil Bray
FROM L TO R: SEAN PENN, ALISON PILL, AND EMILE HIRSCH

Details Release Date: Dec 05, 2008; Limited Release: Nov 26, 2008; Rated: R; Length: 128 Minutes; Genres: Biography, Drama; With: Emile Hirsch and Sean Penn; Distributor: Focus Features

Milk may be the first major gay-themed film since 2005's Brokeback Mountain, but their subjects couldn't be more different. Instead of closeted cowboys, director Van Sant's new movie follows out-and-proud activist Harvey Milk (Penn), the first openly gay man elected to a major political office — before he was assassinated in 1978 by fellow former San Francisco city supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin).

"In the first script I read," says Franco, who plays Milk's lover, Scott Smith, "there was one love scene between Scott and Harvey. As soon as I signed on, there were three more love scenes. On page five, we're going at it!... Basically the reasoning is: People are going to go to the movie and be like, 'All right, is he going to kiss a guy?' So we might as well get it out of the way. Who am I to argue?"

Van Sant brought a similar let's-try-anything ethic to the shoot, especially during a scene depicting the night White allegedly gorged on junk food before killing Milk and Mayor George Moscone. "We did it probably 10 different ways," says Brolin. "At one point, I took off all my clothes and I was writhing, crying, my underwear on as the sun's coming up, with a cookie sticking out of my mouth."
OUR TWO CENTS Van Sant's last four films were avant-garde experiments (see: Elephant). But Oscar buzz for Penn could make Milk one of the year's must-see serious films. 11/26

Web Obsession The homegrown Uncle Donald's thecastro.net includes extensive photos and reminiscences about Milk

Originally posted Aug 13, 2008 Published in issue #1007-1008 Aug 22, 2008 Order article reprints