As Americans celebrate the results of a history-making election, a new film about another significant political pioneer is gaining rave reviews.
By
SBS Film

4 Nov 2008 - 3:29 PM  UPDATED 16 Jan 2014 - 3:39 PM

Gus Van Sant's Milk, a biopic of gay activist Harvey Milk, is gaining rave reviews from the Hollywood trades.

Milk was the first openly gay man elected to a significant US public office before he was shot dead by a fellow politician in 1978, and Sean Penn's performance in the lead role is already generating serious buzz.

Variety's Todd Mccarthy notes that, "Penn's Harvey is a man with a ready laugh, alive to the moment, open to life regardless of neuroses and past tragedies, and acutely aware of one's limited time on Earth. The explosive anger and fury often summoned by Penn in his work is nowhere to be seen, replaced by a geniality that is as welcome as it is unexpected. Penn is also an ideal conduit for a characteristic shrewdly underlined in Black's writing, that being Harvey's talent for gently but firmly nudging people out of routine or complacent attitudes."

Fortunately, it seems Van Sant has avoided the heavy-handedness one could bring to  a political film in such a political climate.

"On a project whose greatest danger lay in its potential to come across as     agenda-driven agitprop, the filmmakers have crucially infused the story with qualities in very short supply today -- gentleness and a humane embrace of all its characters, even of the entirely vilifiable gunman, Dan White," McCarthy writes.

The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt heaped similar praise on Van Sant's welcome return to form: "Van Sant moves beyond his experimental filmmaking of the last half-decade for a restrained, unembellished approach. The style is classic filmmaking of the '70s, a film that watches and observes everything and everybody."

Universal Pictures will release Milk on January 29.