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Stars: Sean Penn, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, Diego Luna, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill, Victor Garber

Director: Gus Van Sant

Although it's odd that Penn would wish to play two pushy, assassinated politicians in a short space of time, this is certainly a lot better than All the King's Men, with Penn terrific as Harvey Milk, a very different kettle of gefiltefish from Huey Long. And, under Van Sant's direction, this is a much more dynamic film.

Jewish, outspoken and so openly homosexual as to invite trouble wherever he went in the San Francisco of 1972, Milk and his partner (the chameleon Franco) put down roots in the city's Castro Street, where they rent a camera shop. Organising the shopkeepers and local gay community, Harvey becomes dubbed the Mayor of Castro Street, and stands several times unsuccessfully for District Supervisor, finally winning the post in 1977 with what becomes his slogan: 'My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you.'

He immediately gets involved in what becomes a nationwide battle over gay rights (powerful bigots want all gay teachers sacked), crossing swords with fellow supervisor Dan White (Brolin, scarily like the real person) who is to prove his nemesis.

The film, though occasionally stickily written, certainly captures the mood of the age, and almost all of its performances create real people; only Luna comes on too strong as Milk's last love. Penn, catching exactly Milk's intelligence, determination and playful gayness, deservedly won an Oscar.

David Quinlan

USA 2008. UK Distributor: Momentum (Focus Features). Colour by deluxe.
128 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 18 Jan 2009