(In theaters, February 2009) Even viewers with little specific interest in gay issues will find much to like about this didactic tale of political activism with a tragic ending. Based on a true story of Harvey Milk, “the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California”, the film is a time-capsule slice of San Francisco during the late seventies, a biography of a most unusual man and a primer on how to affect social change via political activism. As a result, it’s not exactly the most action-driven or funniest film on the planet. But it does represent a strong lesson in the way things work, and does so with a minimal amount of preaching. Covertly, it’s intensely relevant to today’s political issues: It’s hard to see the story of 1978’s Proposition 6 without thinking about 2008’s Proposition 8, or hear the anti-gay arguments of Milk’s opponent without thinking that they are seriously on the wrong side of history. Philosophically, it’s hard not to be impressed by a film that advocates steady political and social change over revolution, given how the latter is far more dramatic than the former. Alas, it’s the tragedy at the end of Milk’s life that acts as the dramatic driver to the film, mixing up a number of the lessons one could learn from it. (One also gets the feeling that the story of the Moscone-Milk assassinations was also far more complex than the simplified Milk-centric version presented on-screen.) Sean Penn is convincing in the lead role, while Science Fiction fans will be amused to see Frank M. Robinson (who was Milk’s speech-writer) in a series of cameo appearances. The period feel of the piece is remarkable and the film doesn’t overstay its welcome despite a relatively tepid rhythm.