Critics Consensus

Anchored by Sean Penn's powerhouse performance, Milk is a triumphant account of America's first openly gay man elected to public office.



Total Count: 240


Audience Score

User Ratings: 177,934
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Movie Info

In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay man to be voted into public office in America. His victory was not just a victory for gay rights; he forged coalitions across the political spectrum. From senior citizens to union workers, Harvey Milk changed the very nature of what it means to be a fighter for human rights and became, before his untimely death in 1978, a hero for all Americans. During the last eight years of his life, while living in New York City, he turns 40. Looking for more purpose, he and his lover Scott Smith relocate to San Francisco, where they found a small business, Castro Camera, in the heart of a working-class neighborhood. Then, with support from Scott and from new friends like young activist Cleve Jones, Milk plunges headfirst into the choppy waters of politics. Bolstering his public profile with humor, Milk's actions speak even louder than his gift-of-gab words. When Milk is elected supervisor for the newly zoned District 5, he tries to coordinate his efforts with those of another newly elected supervisor, Dan White. But as White and Milk's political agendas increasingly diverge, their personal destinies tragically converge.


Sean Penn
as Harvey Milk
Emile Hirsch
as Cleve Jones
Josh Brolin
as Dan White
James Franco
as Scott Smith
Diego Luna
as Jack Lira
Alison Pill
as Anne Kronenberg
Lucas Grabeel
as Danny Nicoletta
Victor Garber
as Mayor George Moscone
Denis O'Hare
as John Briggs
Joseph Cross
as Dick Pabich
Stephen Spinella
as Rick Stokes
Howard Rosenman
as David Goodstein
Brandon Boyce
as Jim Rivaldo
Kelvin Yu
as Michael Wong
Jeff Koons
as Art Agnos
Boyd Holbrook
as Denton Smith
Allan Baird
as Himself
Tom Ammiano
as Himself
Hope Goblirsch
as Mary Ann White
Steven Wiig
as McConnelly
Ashlee Temple
as Dianne Feinstein
Wendy King
as Carol Ruth Silver
Kelvin Han Yee
as Gordon Lau
Robert Chimento
as Phil Burton
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News & Interviews for Milk

Critic Reviews for Milk

All Critics (240) | Top Critics (52) | Fresh (223) | Rotten (17)

  • Penn may be the main attraction, but this is very much an ensemble piece. Emile Hirsch, as cheeky street kid turned activist Cleve Jones, Diego Luna as Milk's annoyingly needy, unstable second lover and James Franco's Scott, add to the communal spirit.

    Feb 6, 2018 | Full Review…

    David Ansen

    Top Critic
  • At the moment, it's my favorite movie of the year.

    May 6, 2011 | Rating: A | Full Review…

    Cole Haddon
    Top Critic
  • Sean Penn gives a meticulously detailed performance as the cagey and charismatic pol, but credit should also go to Dustin Lance Black, whose script squarely locates Milk at the center of his community, his city, and his cause.

    May 9, 2009 | Full Review…
  • The film itself can be taken as an act of testimony, mingling archival footage with re-enactments and immediacy with nostalgia.

    Feb 5, 2009 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
  • Penn is a revelation as Milk. He's always been a no-holds-barred actor, but this is another departure: his energy drives the story.

    Jan 29, 2009 | Rating: 5/6 | Full Review…
  • The story is sad, but the mood is jubilant and the energy relentless.

    Jan 23, 2009 | Rating: 5/6 | Full Review…

    Dave Calhoun

    Time Out
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Milk

  • Nov 02, 2016
    The fall of San Francisco into a liberal hell hole. Milk is a politically charged propaganda film that brands everyone gay for the sake of political correctness. Penn's performance for such an unlikable role was incredible but there's nothing else to really make this memorable. It was long and dreadful, definitely avoid.
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer
  • Dec 20, 2013
    Sean Penn delivers a very fitting tribute to a gay pathfinder in Harvey Milk. The story in its full richness comes out. James Franco and Josh Brolin are also fantastic in supporting roles. A great memory of a great man.
    John B Super Reviewer
  • Feb 02, 2013
    a valiant case study of a protagonist of the gay civil rights movement. Penn shows another branch of his highly interchangable talent
    Sanity Assassin ! Super Reviewer
  • Jan 05, 2013
    A touching and engaging biopic driven by an incredibly charismatic and charming performance by Sean Penn, Milk succeeds in nearly every department. Aside from Sean Penn, a number of other actors give very convincing performances, namely Josh Brolin, James Franco, and Diego Luna. The movie is surprisingly cheery for much of the run time, mainly due to the vivid colors used and Sean Penn's warm and friendly demeanor as Harvey Milk. A genuinely wonderful movie documenting the life of Harvey Milk, Milk is yet another triumph for director Gus Van Sant and ranks among his best works.
    Joey S Super Reviewer

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