Rated 4.0

Sacramento-born, Mormon-raised screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and director Gus Van Sant reintroduce America to the most prominent of its first openly gay elected officials, San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), who was murdered 30 years ago by disgruntled fellow supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin). Adopting the martyred hero’s own charming, coyly deferential tone, the whole movie is a tasteful come-on, with an emphasis on dignity, sincerity and tenderness. Penn and Brolin clearly enjoy the emotional richness of their scenes together, and they bring out each other’s best—a warmer, deeper register than either actor usually tends to reveal onscreen. In fact, for all its gracious humor and affectionate wit, Penn’s portrayal might be his liveliest, most lovable turn since Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Which is to say that Milk wears its historical duty lightly and therefore very well. It’s too late for Proposition 8 but right on time.