Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is a top lawyer at a prestigious law firm. Given a big case which (if successful) would give him a promotion thus becoming a partner at the firm, Andy’s life goes to hell when his complaint for the big case disappears and he is subsequently fired for incompetence.
Convinced his bosses sabotaged his work (because he is a gay man suffering from AIDS), he decides to sue for damages but no one is willing to take his case. Andrew finally turns to Joseph Miller (Denzel Washington), a small time lawyer and former acquaintance who must overcome his own prejudices’ to help Andrew win before the deadly disease takes his life.
A great social commentary / court room drama that is not to preachy and is light on the cheese, Philadelphia is a movie that does not shy away from what goes through the life of a person suffering from AIDS: blood tests, change of attitude by people around him, lesions, incredible pain… all are shown in frank detail by director Jonathan Demme.
Often associated with comedies during this part of his career, Tom Hanks went through quite a professional and physical (losing 26 pounds) transformation, delivering one of the most memorable dramatic turns by a comedic actor. The beauty of his character lies within the fact that Beckett is no angel; he has a temper and he cheated on his boyfriend (which is how he caught the disease), and that is what makes him so real, so human; he is a man with flaws. He is a man like everyone else.
Unfortunately overshadowed by Hanks’ award hype, Denzel Washington gives just as good if not better performance as Joseph Miller, the defense attorney who has the same prejudices’ and phobia that haunts the average person in regards to HIV and homosexuality. Jason Robards and Mary Steenburgen provide concrete support, yet the casting of Antonio Banderas as Andy’s boyfriend Miguel just doesn’t work, the Latin heart throb doing more harm than good with his over the top acting.
One of the best things about Philadelphia is the excellent song “The Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen, which is no doubt one of his finest compositions. Jonathan Demme knew that Springsteen would bring an audience that would not usually see a movie about a gay man dying from AIDS, increasing AIDS awareness and placing a human face on the disease.
It is still an important issue in the world today, with over 25 million people lives lost to the disease since it was first recognized in 1981. You want another figure? Out of the 53 gay men suffering from AIDS who appeared in the movie, only 10 survived the following year.
A great film that features career defining performances by Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, Philadelphia is a movie that challenged the social stereotypes placed on those who suffer from Aids and HIV and openly addresses the fears felt by the average person in regards to the fatal disease.