Two competing lawyers join forces to sue a prestigious law firm for AIDS discrimination. As their unlikely friendship develops their courage overcomes the prejudice and corruption of their powerful adversaries.
What do you love about the law, Andrew?
Andrew Beckett is a gay lawyer infected with AIDS, who in spite of being his law firm's rising star, is fired on a trumped up charge of negligence. Refusing to accept defeat, Andrew manages to enlist the help of homophobic lawyer Joe Miller, whom it's hoped, can prove that the firm acted disgracefully out of fear of Andrew's illness. But can Joe throw off his own prejudice? Can Andrew keep it together as AIDS starts to take a hold?
Philadelphia was the film to really bring the horrors of AIDS to the masses. Though certainly not the first film to deal with the subject, films such as "An Early Frost (1985)" and "As Is (1986)" had led the way, Philadelphia is certainly the most memorable of all the mainstream films dealing with the subject.
As the years have rolled by, the film's standing has waned some what, gays have renounced the film as over sentimental gloop and various other cinema critics have accused the film of confusing its aims. The truth is that Philadelphia is only really guilty of playing it safe. Andrew Beckett is clearly wronged, and he's clearly a lovely and special man, supported by a complete and loyal loving family. It's the character set up that never really puts the film in any real danger of becoming edgy, even the strand dealing with homophobia is only briefly given credence. However, where the makers do achieve their aims, is with the emotional aspects, something that lifts Philadelphia to a far higher plain in the pantheon of emotional kickers.
The tone of the film is set courtesy of Bruce Springsteen's Oscar winning "Streets Of Philadelphia", which acts as a sombre portent of things to come during the opening credit sequence. From here on in the story is content with gnawing away at our heart strings and breaking down prejudice barriers in the name of fair play and adult fallibility's. Part court room drama and part human tragedy, Philadelphia is never found wanting in the engrossing department, something that is in no small amount due to the work of a firing on all cylinders cast.
Tom Hanks is always pretty safe company to be in as a rule, but tackling the role of Andrew Beckett required much more than merely charm and a homely appeal. Hanks, winning his first Best Actor Oscar, steps up to the plate here and delivers one of the best performances of the 90s. As AIDS ravages his body and soul, Hanks as Andrew reaches deep down within and has the audience with him all the way through his ordeal. Alongside Hanks is Denzel Washington as Joe, who if anything has the more prickly role to contend with. It's probably not much of a surprise to most followers of his to say he's on his usual great form here, with a shift in his character's fortitude showcasing the best of the New Yorker's ability. Rounding out the cast, and with equally fine performances are Jason Robards, Joanne Woodward, Robert Ridgely, Mary Steenburgen and Antonio Banderas. Then as surely as Springsteen's opener had set the mood, Neil Young closes the film down with his own heart achingly brilliant "Philadelphia", playing alongside some video footage that finally seals the deal as to why Philadelphia as a movie exists.
Revisits to the film show up its minor flaws, but as someone who remembers how he, and the other multi sexed audience reacted on leaving the cinema back in 1993, it's the kind of impact that to my mind can never be understated. 9/10
TriStar Pictures by Jonathan Demme, Ron Nyswaner.
Stars: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Roberta Maxwell.
Keywords: philadelphia, pennsylvania aids pennsylvania, usa homophobia jurors court lawsuit partner hiv lawyer dying discrimination judiciary 1980s courtroom drama gay
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