What if Gus Van Sant had made Milk as if he were actually Gus Van Sant? That’s all I could think while watching this stately, well-mannered movie biography of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold a major political office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Aside from fairly intense canoodling between Milk (Sean Penn) and his lover Scott Smith (James Franco), this traditional, conservative effort could have come from director Ron Howard in A Beautiful Mind mode. True, Van Sant has delivered respectable studio product before, namely Good Will Hunting. But he’s at his best as a writer and director when working with a non-professional cast to conjure up ethereal mood pieces such as Elephant, Last Days or Paranoid Park. The latter movie – a meditative, skateboarding whodunit – also came out in 2008, but tellingly received little of the Oscar attention showered upon this prestige project.