MILK (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

August 14, 2009 by  

“A magnificent film.  Sean Penn’s performance as Harvey Milk is absolutely wonderful!  Highly recommended!”

Images courtesy of © 2009 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.


DURATION: 2 Hrs., 9 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English SDH, Spanish, French

COMPANY:  Universal

RATED: R (For Language, Some Sexual Content and Brief Violence)

Release Date: March 10, 2009

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Screenplay by Dustin Lance Black

Executive Produced by Dustin Lance Black, Barbara A. Hall, William Horberg, Michael London, Bruna Papandrea

Produced by Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks

Music by Danny Elfman

Director of Photography: Harris Savides

Edited by Elliot Graham

Casting by Francine Maisler

Production Design by Bill Groom

Art Direction by Charley Beal

Set Decoration by Barbara Munch

Costume Design by Danny Glicker


Sean Penn as Harvey Milk

Emile Hirsch as Cleve Jones

Josh Brolin as Dan White

Diego Luna as Jack Lira

James Franco as Scott Smith

Alison Pill as Anne Kronenberg

Victor Gaber as Mayor George Moscone

Denis O’Hare as State Senator John Briggs

Joseph Cross as Dick Pabich

Stephen Spinella as Rick Stokes

Lucas Grabeel as Danny Nicoletta

Brandon Boyce as Jim Rivaldo

Howard Roseman as David Goodstein

Kelvin Yu as Michael Wong

Jeff Koons as Art Agnos

Academy Award ® winner Sean Penn stars in this stirring celebration of Harvey Milk, a true man of the people. Based on the inspiring true story of the first openly gay man elected to major public office, this compelling film follows Milk’s powerful journey to inspire hope for equal rights during one of the least tolerant times of our nation’s history. With a stunning ensemble cast, it’s the emotionally charged story that was proclaimed the winner of the New York Film Critics Circle Best Picture Award!

In 2009, the film “MILK” based on the powerful and inspirational story of San Francisco’s Harvey Milk, a man who fought for human rights won the hearts of critics who raved that the film is one of the year’s best.

The film went on to receive eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay. The result was Sean Penn winning “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” and Dustin Lance Black (“Big Love”, “The Journey of Jared Price” and “Something Close to Heaven”) winning “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen”.

The film was directed by Gus Van Sant (“Good will Hunting”, “Psycho” and “Finding Forrester”), music composed by award winning composer Danny Elfman (“Terminator Salvation”, “Batman”, “Spider-Man”, etc.) and cinematography by Harris Savides (“Zodiac”, “Finding Forrester” and “American Gangster”).

The film would be known for its talented cast which include Judd Hirsch (“Taking Woodstock”, “Speed Racer”, “Lords of Dogtown”), Josh Brolin (“W.”, “American Gangster” and “No Country for Old Men”), James Franco (“Spiderman” films, “Pineapple Express” and “Nights in Rodanthe”), Victor Garber (“Eli Stone” and “Alias”), Dennis O’Hare (“Brothers & Sisters”, “The Proposal” and “Quarantine”), Lucas Grabeel (“High School Musical” films), Joseph Cross (“Smallville”, “Untraceable” and “Flags of Our Fathers”) and many more.

The film is about Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. The film details the life of Harvey Milk living in New York and moving to San Francisco in 1972 with his boyfriend Scott Smith (James Franco) in the Castro District. During that time, there was political unrest as homosexuals were being beaten and killed and one man decided to make a difference and inspire thousands to also stand up for themselves.

“MILK” gives us a glimpse of the life Harvey Milk had. From running for political office (unsuccessfully) three times but eventually, won a seat as a city supervisor in 1977 and make changes not only for the city of San Francisco but his aim was fight for gay rights, civil rights in the state and inspired many in other states.

We get to see the personal side of Harvey Milk as he was passionate about his role in politics but at the same time, knowing it would cost him his own personal relationships. By running for office, we get to see those close to Harvey such as Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) who was a young man that Harvey saw potential for fighting for gay rights, especially California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 his campaign manager Anne Kronenberg (Allison Pill) who was very good at what she does and worked for Harvey Milk with no pay, Mayor George Moscone (Victor Garber) who was open to working with Harvey and knew the importance of the gay vote for his upcoming re-election, Dick Pabich (Joseph Cross) and Michael Wong (Kelvin Yu) who worked with Harvey during his campaign and campaign photographer Danny Nicoletta (Lucas Gravbel) and many more.

But the film also shows us the tragedy that took place on November 22, 1978 but how his legacy has helped breakdown some of the gates for many gay men and women. The film celebrates the life of Harvey Milk and reminds everyone of the many people who fought for their rights during that turbulent time.


“MILK” is featured in 1080p High-Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio) and for the most part, it’s a pretty good looking film that tends to be creative with its use of older San Francisco video footage of Castro Street back in the 70’s and meld it with today’s modern film.  For the most part, there are times where the film looks colorful but at the same time, there is an intentional washed out feel towards the picture quality of the film.  From the production and set design to recreate that Castro Street 70’s feel, there was a good amount of creative experimentation with the film.  But overall, cinematographer Harris Savides and editor Elliot Graham did a pretty solid job of piecing together the various video pieces and photography to the film.

The film is not washed out in the DNR (digital noise reduction) type of way but more towards achieving a classic, vintage look that works perfectly for the film.  Noise is evident and giving the film that film-like quality via Blu-ray.

The audio is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and although the film is dialogue driven and utilizes the front/center channel, there are occasional scenes that take advantage of the surround channels especially during crowd scenes.  I noticed also a bit of LFE not just in musical segments but in one scene, you can hear the thunder boom just a little.  So, there is a hint of other channels being utilized throughout the film.  But for the most part, it is a dialogue driven film.  And dialogue is clear and understandable.

Subtitles are provided in English SDH, Spanish and French.


“MILK” comes with the following special features in 1080i High-Definition with English Dolby Digital 2.0 audio:

  • Remembering Harry – (13:21) Those who worked with Harry such as former San Francisco Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver, campaign writer Frank Robinson, campaign photographer Daniel Nicoletta, campaign director Anne Kronenberg, Coors boycott organizer Allain Baird and historical consultant Cleve Jones talk about working with Harry and remembering the day Harry was killed and the march that was done afterwards.
  • Hollywood Comes to San Francisco– (14:32) Interviews with the cast and crew about being part of the film, working together and also some of the talent getting to meet their real life counterparts.  Also discussion of the casting of Sean Penn, how the director was found and filming the march scenes. And much, much more.
  • Marching for Equality (7:58) – Recreating the street march scenes (marches done after what took place in Dade County and in Wichita, Kansas).  Getting thousands of  volunteers to take part in the march and those who were around back then reminiscing about Harry and how the march and the set production reminded them of Castro Street back in the 70’s and more.

“MILK” is definitely a magnificent and powerful film! Sean Penn did a remarkable job playing that role and almost getting down the look and characteristics of Harvey Milk. But you also have to give credit to the cast and crew for capturing that moment in time. From the look and feel of 1970’s San Francisco but also the costume design, the hair styles and it was great to see the original friends of Harvey Milk also have some involvement in the film.

The overall style of the film is also quite fresh and for those of us who know of San Francisco now, getting a chance to see older footage of Castro Street back then was quite intriguing. But the most intriguing aspect of this film was to learn about Harvey Milk and what he stood for and the rights that he and others have fought hard for. And for those who have forgotten or have never heard of Harvey Milk, to know of the man and what he did for gay rights but also his belief in fighting for civil rights.

As for the depiction of Dan White and also the whole political process, I know there is probably more to the story than what we saw in the film. The film did prompt be to further research what had took place at that time, especially with the Coors boycott, who is Anita Baker, the marches and the what took place at that time and of course, the death of Harvey Milk.

But the screenplay written by Dustin Lance Black is solid, the recreation of this era was ambitious and the direction by Gus Van Sant and the performances by the various talent was quite solid.

As for the Blu-ray release, I have been very pleased with Universal’s Blu-ray releases thus far.  Picture quality are solid and for the most part, the lossless track for “MILK” is clear and understandable.  I wish there were more special features, possibly even commentary included but for the most part, all three special features were quite intriguing and enjoyable.

For those who enjoyed “MILK”, you really can’t go wrong with the Blu-ray release.  It may not have the large amount of special features as previous Universal BD releases but for the most part, “MILK” does look and sound great in High Definition.  Definitely recommended!

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