Sean Penn has been involved in many great movies in his nearly four-decade career. Now, one of his greatest achievements on film is now available on Netflix in the USA.
Milk stars Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, the gay rights activist, and politician who, along with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was assassinated in 1978 by politician Dan White. The story starts as it follows Milk when he is celebrating his 40th birthday in New York City. This is when he meets his much younger lover Scott Smith (played by James Franco). But Harvey is at a point where he is truly dissatisfied with his life, so both men decide to move out west to San Francisco, where they hope their lifestyle is better accepted.
In San Francisco, the pair open Castro Camera in the heart of what eventually becomes the gay neighborhood known as The Castro. Still not finding what he seeks, Milk then uses his background as a businessman to become a gay activist in the city. This causes Milk to fight with the local gay establishment as he feels they are too cautious.
Milk decides his voice needs to be bigger, so he runs for City Supervisor. Both his 1973 and 1975 attempts fail, as does his run for the California State Assembly in 1976. Finally, though, his perseverance pays off. In 1977, Milk wins a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for District 5. His win makes Milk the first openly gay man in California to be voted into a major public office and only the third openly gay man to hold office across the United States. This is also the time that Harvey meets Dan White.
Dan White is a fellow Supervisor whose background is a Vietnam War vet and former firefighter and police officer. He is a conservative man politically and after their initial meeting, White begins to develop a resentment towards Harvey when Milk begins to oppose the many projects White proposes.
Though the resentment builds, the two develop a working relationship. But they come to odds again when White asks Milk to support him in preventing a psychiatric hospital from opening in White’s district if White supports Milk and his citywide gay rights ordinance. Milk declines. Then Proposition 6 is written and it sought to ban gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Milk was able to defeat the bill.
White was now in favor of a supervisor pay raise but doesn’t get support on it. He also favored the Proposition and when neither went his way, he resigned from the Board. He later changed his mind and went to Mayor Moscone to be reinstated. Moscone denied his request. Thoroughly dejected, White sneaks into City Hall through a basement window to hide a gun from metal detectors. White tries one more time to meet with Moscone in another attempt to get his position back, but Moscone denies the meeting. White then enters his office and executes him. White then goes to meet Harvey, where he also kills Milk execution-style.
Milk was a big win for Sean Penn and the makers of the film. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, taking home two. One was for Best Original Screenplay by Dustin Lance Black and the other win was Best Actor for Sean Penn. This was Penn’s second Best Actor win, his first coming in the 2003 mystery drama Mystic River. Though Penn has delivered many wonderful performances throughout his long career, his portrayal of Harvey Milk is oft considered his greatest.
Milk had been set up as a feature film long before director Gus Van Sant took over. In 1991, Oliver Stone was set to direct a biopic on Harvey Milk and actually had written a script for it. In 1992, Van Sant was then signed to direct it and even had Robin Williams slated to portray Milk. That movie fell through when Van Sant and the studio parted for creative differences. There were other actors who were considered to play Milk that included James Woods, Richard Gere, Al Pacino, and Daniel Day-Lewis.
It took 15 years, but Van Sant circled back to the project when he read a new script by Black. Van Sant nabbed Sean Penn as Harvey and had Matt Damon as Dan White but Damon had to eventually pull from the movie because of scheduling conflicts. This is when Josh Brolin stepped into the role.
Van Sant made the movie for $20 million and the release more than doubled the budget, bringing in nearly $55 million at the box office. The movie was an immediate critical hit, obviously with its eight Oscar nominations, and holds a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Milk represents a high in what has become a roller coaster of a career for Sean Penn. Professionally, Penn always seems to be at the top of his game, beginning with his career-making performance as Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. His other career highlights include Racing with the Moon, Casualties of War, Carlito’s Way (how he didn’t win an award for that movie is mind-blowing), Dead Man Walking, and I Am Sam.
Personally is where Sean Penn takes most of his hits. His relationship with the media, mainly photographers, has been questionable at best. He also hasn’t been shy when it comes to his political views nor his activism. He has, in the past, criticized then-President George W. Bush by placing a $56,000 advertisement in the Washington Post asking Bush to end the cycle of violence. He has also been involved with rescue attempts with Hurricane Katrina victims.
If you are up for an Oscar-winning performance, give Milk a try. Netflix has it and Sean Penn rocks it.