Harvey Milk (Sean Penn) is a mostly closeted, gay insurance man that decides he is tired of seeing the entire gay population in America discriminated against without repercussion. So he comes out in the open with who he really is, moves in with his partner Scott Smith (James Franco) and decides that the only way things will change is to be elected to office as an openly gay man. Only then will their interests truly be represented and only then will they take the first steps to making discrimination against homosexuals unlawful.
As far as the movie itself, this one is all about Sean Penn. Every time I watch him disappear into a role I am reminded what a magnificent actor he is. Yes, I am sure he is a real jerk, but he is a jerk that can really act. Since I will never meet him, I would much rather watch the jerk that can act rather than the nice guy who is mediocre. Yet again, he delivers an amazing performance where you truly see him as Harvey Milk. I don't know of a current actor today that is that good at blending into his different characters so that he completely disappears before your eyes. I can certainly see why he won the Oscar this year.
One of the strongest parts of this film is how they don't make Milk a saint. The show him as being driven to the point of alienating his partner, they show him as having a "white knight" complex where his ego drives him to try to save everyone. I mean, they don't gloss over the flaws in his personality and it gives you a multi-dimensional character that is interesting to watch develop into a hero.
The only minor complaint about this one is that the Dan White's (Josh Brolin) character wasn't quite developed enough for me. You have to understand that I was barely out of diapers when all of this took place so I wasn't aware of this story at all until the movie came about. As such, I had no idea who Dan White was or why he was driven to take action. I think they hinted at several motives, but I am not certain it all came together for me. I understand not focusing on the bad guy while trying to do this inspirational movie, but I would have liked to understand White a little more. I don't think it was just him being a bigot, I think it was a lot more than that, but I am not 100% certain what the 'more' was.
Yet again, I have to say this film is a winner. It is highly recommended for three reasons. 1) Sean Penn's performance. It was just outstanding. 2) The reminder that when a nation allows a government to oppress any class of citizen, it gives them more power to oppress any and all classes of citizens. 3) As corny and silly as it always sounds, one person who is passionate and driven enough, can make a difference. Watch this one - Milk is good for you.