Milk was a difficult movie to watch for several reasons. For starters, the passage of Proposition 8 in California, writing discrimination in the state constitution against gays, was paralleled in the movie by the failed attempt to pass a similarly discriminatory proposition in that very same state in the 70s.
Then, thanks to Sean Penn's uncanny portrayal of Harvey Milk (for which he deservedly won his second acting Oscar), there was the realization that what we lack most in our fight against those who hate us is a figure as articulate, smart, energetic, driven and charismatic in our own time as Milk was back then.
Unfortunately, the other side is full of fanatical religious leaders that will stop at nothing to prevent us from enjoying a decent life. We don't have a single name that is nationally recognized to rally us and our allies to our cause.
Finally, I had been reading so much about Harvey Milk leading up to the movie's release and subsequently, that seeing him so vividly portrayed, and knowing how his life would tragically end, I couldn't help but feel sad and angry and powerless.
Also, the movie starts out with Harvey recording the message to be released in case of his assassination, so his death's specter is never buried too deep in the viewer's consciousness.
I liked the movie a lot, and wished for an unlikely upset at the recent Oscar ceremony over the Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire, even though the latter deserved it more in pure terms of movie quality, simply because Milk's message is so important at this point in time in this country that a win would have been very significant.
As a film, Milk doesn't lack excellency. The acting is great, and Penn isn't the only one who shines. Josh Brolin (nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), James Franco, and Emile Hirsch, among others, turn in top-notch work.
The poignant, intimate, and thorough screenplay by Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black makes you feel like you're really in San Francisco, watching and hearing Harvey speak to the crowds or his lovers and friends.
Gus Van Sant's direction, paired with a great cinematography, score, and editing create a final product that deserves to be watched not just by cinephiles or historians interested in the gay movement's evolution, but by everyone else.
A movie that will stay in my memory for a long time.