Milk's subject matter is of social importance, especially in the wake of California's recent Proposition 8. A powerhouse cast, with fantastic performances from Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, James Franco, and Emile Hirsch, propels the film forward into a sympathetic portrait of an important public symbol of hope and perseverance.
Dustin Lance Black's screenplay is obviously very dear to his heart, yet its authentically heartfelt character dialogues are overshadowed by its by-the-numbers narrative with all the biopic conventions. Far worse, though, is Gus Van Sant's pretentiously inept direction, which erroneously turns Milk into a martyr. And that's the problem, the same narrow focus that has made Spike Lee's films so inaccessible for years. A gay screenwriter and a gay director making a movie about a gay rights icon comes off as a little too bent to really capture the man.
Milk is a good film that could have been a great film in the hands of someone less invested in its subject.