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USA 1993
Directed by
Jonathan Demme
126 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an AIDS-afflicted, gay hot-shot lawyer who is sacked by a top Philadelphia law firm because, so he believes, they are repulsed by his disease. He hires homophobic ambulance-chaser Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) to plead his case in court and Joe in the process learns the importance of compassion.

Jonathan Demme’s movie received accolades for taking on the difficult subject of AIDS. There is no question that in this respect praise is deserved but by the same token it is an overly Hollywoodized treatment of the subject, perhaps not exactly glib, but, bar the occasional glimpses of real AIDS patients, a part buddy movie, part courtroom drama, safely played out
as a mainstream film with A-list stars. On the upside Hanks, who won the Best Actor Oscar for it, gives a poignant performance that cuts through the overly conventional aspects of the film and he ably supported by the always-watchable Denzel Washington. The rest of the cast including Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, Antonio Banderas and Joanne Woodward dutifully fill out their typology of support characters.

Although the gay/civil rights analogy isn’t hammered one can’t help but feel that if only in the casting there is simply too much political correctness at work to bear much more than a loose relationship to the real world. Philadelphia doesn't balance the twin aspects of courtroom drama and personal transformation as well as Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict (1982). The former aspect lacks drama and the latter aspect comes too easily (in a rather over-the-top scene involving Hanks emoting to a Maria Callas aria while Denzel walls of defence come crumbling down) and Demme is far from subtle in delivering the visual semiotics.  Nevertheless Philadelphia has a story of substance and Hanks and Washington carry it off well enough.




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