Tom Hanks
Denzel Washington
Jason Robards
Mary Steenburgen
Antonio Banderas
Joanne Woodward
Robert Ridgely
Charles Napier

Jonathan Demme


Time: 125 Minutes
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama

AWARDS: Won Oscars for Best Actor (Hanks) and Best Song. Nominated for Best Original Screenplay and Best Makeup.

I have to say that when I originally saw this movie, I thought, like many people, that Demme had copped out. Mainly, because the first big Hollywood movie about AIDS was more about discrimination than the disease and the people it was affecting. Watching it again recently, I found that I was wrong. PHILADELPHIA is a much stronger movie as a courtroom drama, saying more about the trauma of living with this disease than any movie set in a hospital could have. It captures a truly frightening time in our culture when people who were infected were treated as pariahs instead of given the understanding those dying of a horrible disease deserve. AIDS certainly brought the homosexual lifestyle to the forefront of society, which made most of America extremely uncomfortable.

This film gives the disease a face to identify with, takes us into the life of a decent, intelligent, hard-working individual who loved and was loved, and just happened to be gay. By casting Hanks as Andrew Beckett, the character is immediately likeable and non-threatening. He's America's every man, which makes his character's lifestyle more easily acceptable. Denzel Washington plays Joe Miller, the homophobic lawyer representing Beckett in his unfair termination lawsuit against his old law office. Washington's character is the one who unfolds the film's message – that there's no reason to be afraid of gay people, that they're just like everyone else and this disease is a killer no one deserves to catch. In the beginning, he's wary of Andrew, afraid he'll catch AIDS or that people will think he's gay. By the end, he's free of his fears and a stronger person and better lawyer for having known Andrew.




"Some of these people make me sick. But a law's been broken here. You do remember the law, don't you?"

Despite the obvious message, the film isn't overly preachy about the points it's trying to get across. By using the forum of a court battle, the prejudices and horrors of living with AIDS are able to be portrayed, but in a more intellectual, non-threatening way. This enables an audience who may not want to hear about gay porn theaters and lesions to get the information needed without feeling disgusted or grossed out. Miller originally takes Andrew's case because he can't live with himself for declining it due to prejudice. It's fairly apparent from the beginning, once Beckett's health starts to seriously worsen, that he will not be making it to the end of this film alive. The trial is a mere formality to Andrew. He will not be alive to spend the money, but he is not about to let his reputation, his legacy, be tainted by these bastards. He was a good lawyer and a wonderful person. The fact that he has to prove that at all is horrifying.

The main character arc in this film is in Miller and Washington puts in an amazing performance. Even though you can't agree with his attitudes towards gay people, you can't help but like him anyway. The casting of this film is brilliant and one of the reasons it works as well as it does. Both men bring an innate depth to their characters, many leading men just don't have. Miller's isn't a complete turnaround – he probably won't be marching in the next "Gay Pride Parade" – but it's a start towards understanding. I found Beckett's family to be a bit too understanding, but there's only room for one group of evil bastards in this film. I also thought they could have included a few more scenes between Beckett and his lover Miguel played by Antonio Banderas. It's obvious they have a serious long-term relationship, but their scenes together just didn't show much of a connection between them. They could have been roommates or good friends for all the "love" that was shown. Of course, there's a big difference between talking about gay lovers and showing them and I guess they didn't want to alienate the audience more than they had to.

Now that there's some distance from it's original release, and there have been other films about AIDS, it's clear that this was definitely the right course for Demme to take in handling this topic. Though mention of AIDS has faded from the headlines, PHILADELPHIA still seems important and fresh. It is a film to be reckoned with, because it deals with fear, prejudice and acceptance instead of just a disease. Andrew Beckett could have had any number of diseases or physical disabilities and the story would still be a powerful one. This is not a film you can watch over and over again, but it is one everyone should see.

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