Election fallout could help Van Sant's biopic

Focus Features

Release date: Nov. 26

Harvey Milk was an underdog. “Milk” might be anything but.

Boosted by a gay lead character fairly unique to the Oscar-friendly biopic genre, along with game performances, “Milk” boasts the kind of sociopolitical discourse that the Acad favors.

Interestingly, fallout from this month’s elections — which saw a proposal approved to eliminate gay marriage in California — could add to the film’s resonance and even the urgency to nominate it for pic honors as a statement. Helmer Gus Van Sant, whose only Oscar nom came 11 years ago for “Good Will Hunting,” stands a chance to return to the finals as a director, though he will have to battle scattered chatter that the film lagged in its second act.

A four-time nominee (including a win for 2003’s “Mystic River”), Sean Penn reveals a more warm and sensitive side in the title role of activist and politician Milk than the rough-and-tumble characters he’s known for — something that could work in his favor.

Josh Brolin and James Franco have generated buzz for their supporting roles, but, in a way, Penn’s performance so dominates the film that the rest of the talent risks being lost in his shadow.

The screenplay from Dustin Lance Black emphasizes issues over character, which means a groundswell of support isn’t guaranteed.

Another biopic about a martyred hero, “Gandhi,” swept the table in 1982 with eight Oscars, but “Milk” is more intimate, and local, in scale — and perhaps more relevant to our times.

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