Sean Penn's knockout performance as exuberant, politically crafty San Francisco gay rights martyr Harvey Milk is matched by director Gus Van Sant's detailed mosaic portrait of Milk's late-'70s times the era when multiculturalism began transforming the country, seemingly from the corner of 17th and Castro outward. Marching alongside Milk in Van Sant's generous, frequently humorous odyssey are James Franco, Diego Luna, Emile Hirsch, Victor Garber, and Josh Brolin as assassin Dan White, the odd man out. Acting honors all around. Dustin Lance Black's screenplay is a model of dramatic economy, with not even one wasted scene. Far and away the most "public" of filmmaker Van Sant's filmography of personal stories, the hidden subtext of his own private America (128 min.).
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