Using flashbacks from a statement recorded late in life and archival footage for atmosphere, this film traces Harvey Milk's career from his 40th birthday to his death. He leaves the closet and New York, opens a camera shop that becomes the salon for San Francisco's growing gay community, and organizes gays' purchasing power to build political alliances. He runs for office with lover Scott Smith as his campaign manager. Victory finally comes on the same day Dan White wins in the city's conservative district. The rest of the film sketches Milk's relationship with White and the 1978 fight against a statewide initiative to bar gays and their supporters from public school jobs.
As Anita Bryant was crusading to force homosexuals back into the closet and strip them of basic rights, Harvey Milk was galvanizing the community to fight to reclaim the rights to which they were entitled.
Sean Penn isn't a favourite actor of mine, but I think he played this role very well. Josh Brolin is consistently underrated as an actor, in my opinion, and he did a great job here as Dan White. I have read that the movie glosses over Harvey's promiscuity, and perhaps that's true, but I don't believe its intent was to illustrate every aspect of his life. It was about his impact on the movement and how tirelessly he worked for his community.
For those of us who are too young to remember when these events were actually taking place (being born in 1975, that includes me, too) Milk captures an vital piece of the history of the gay rights movement in the US in the 1970s. It's a solid, well-crafted movie. I give it 9/10.