In a year in which our nation elected its first black president and voters in California passed a proposition overturning the legalization of gay marriage, Milk is especially poignant. The biopic about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the U.S., is a reminder that even as we celebrate how far we've come, there's still a long way to go.

In a year in which our nation elected its first black president and voters in California passed a proposition overturning the legalization of gay marriage, Milk is especially poignant. The biopic about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in the U.S., is a reminder that even as we celebrate how far we've come, there's still a long way to go.

By threading in '70s archival footage of Milk's campaigns and eventual assassination, director Gus Van Sant creates not only a heartfelt tribute to a devoted gay rights leader, but an up-close look at the rise of San Francisco's gay subculture. The end result is a story that feels timely and fresh, even to those familiar with the tragic story.

Sean Penn tones down his usual over-acting to play Milk as a slightly flamboyant but completely charming politician, a guy who's angry about the way gays are treated, but also hopeful things can change.

It's a treat to watch Penn playing someone who's not consumed with rage or anguish, but instead joyful. Even after a tearjerker ending, Harvey's warm smile is what you'll remember when you leave the theater. And the depiction of his relationship with longtime love Scott (James Franco) is one of the sweetest ever put on screen.

Josh Brolin turns in more fine work as Dan White, Milk's fellow city supervisor and eventual killer, a deeply conflicted man not ready for the changing times. A nearly unrecognizable Emile Hirsch steals every scene he's in as a fervent campaigner.

In the end, Milk isn't so much a proper biopic as a resonating message movie, and it's arriving at just the right time.