Actor: Sean Penn outdoes himself to earn the Oscar

Film Critic

With Sean Penn, there is forever the sense that he has demons of his own to beat back before he can slip underneath the skin of whatever character is awaiting dissection on the table in front of him. The knives are always at the ready, the guns loaded, the enemy awaits.

And so it felt with "Milk" that there were wounds that he needed to suffer through first to excavate the soul of the slain San Francisco politician and gay-rights activist Harvey Milk.

It was a transformative journey, and Penn took all of us along with him, from the grit of a subway hookup to the emerging idealism of the martyr he was to become.

Though Penn has countless performances from the searing to the sublime, "Milk" became the crucible that would test him, revealing a new essential core of complexity within an already complex actor's actor. It is in the ever-so-slight release of tension that seems to always play across Penn's body, the bare tilt of his head, the way his voice pirouetted around the homilies he is preaching. In "Milk," he found his way to new emotional depths.

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