Director: Gus Van Sant
Two remarkable transformations are at the heart of Gus Van Sant’s affecting portrait of Harvey Milk, the slain 1970s San Francisco politician and civil rights icon.
First and foremost is Sean Penn’s title performance, which recently won him his second Oscar. Here he’s hope personified, easily adopting his subject’s ready smile and very much resembling the first openly gay politician in California’s history.
The other impressive transformation is director Van Sant. As a gay man himself, Van Sant might have been expected to elevate his subject beyond the near-sainthood status accorded him from his 1978 assassination at the hands of a deranged fellow politician.
Instead he takes the more honest and dramatically satisfying route. He astutely uses documentary footage to remind viewers of how unliberated the 1970s really were.
But he leaves Penn’s magnetic empathy to speak for itself. The actor portrays Milk as a flawed and self-interested man for whom personal epiphany came slowly, but who experienced a history-altering “road to Damascus” moment when it did. Extras include deleted scenes, plus three featurettes that further illuminate Milk’s life and continuing influence.