My respect for Sean Penn has grown over the years; the deal was probably sealed when I saw him in 21 Grammes with Naomi Watts. But if you’d told me even a year ago that this brooding charismatic actor was going to take the part of the impish but extraordinarily tenacious gay activist of San Francisco’s Castro district, Harvey Milk, I would have been puzzled or dismissive. Or both.
But Penn is brilliant in the role. He creates an entirely convincing and moving portrait of Milk, a vulnerable, determined, mischievous, clever and instinctive politician who recognised the importance of political representation and canny alliances to promote the cause about which he cared most passionately.
Milk is not just a moving recreation of a key cultural and political moment in recent history. It’s a hymn to the power of democracy, raw and messy as it so often is.