Philadelphia“So let’s talk about what this case is really about…the general public’s hatred, our loathing…[we’re afraid of] anyone who has AIDS and we want to get it and anyone with it as far away from us as possible.”

These lines of dialogue help Denzel Washington sink his teeth into a powerful role in the Jonathan Demme directed film Philadelphia also starring Tom Hanks in an Oscar-winning performance who also lost 30 pounds for this role.  Washington deserved an Oscar nomination for his role, but the Academy doesn’t usually reward the secondary lead – remember Rain Man and Awakenings?

Hanks plays lawyer Andrew Beckett, with emotion and realism.  Washington plays a stereotypical homophobic named Joe Miller.  Together as characters, Beckett and Miller represent different sides of the AIDS issue and eventually combine together to fight for justice in the courts regarding a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Jason Robards coldly plays Beckett’s boss, Andrew Wheeler, as Mary Steenburgen portrays an equally icy character, a rigid defense attorney named Belinda Conine.  Antonio Banderas plays Miguel Alvarez who has a key relationship with one of the main characters.

Demme does a great job using the camera to express the sensitive feelings of the characters.  He uses extensive close-ups and tracking shots to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride from beginning to end.  The beginning of the plot breaks up a bit due to some necessary time lapses, but then increases to a smooth pace by the end of the film. Tak Fujimoto (Sixth Sense, Silence of the Lambs) provides the excellent cinematography.

This film uses a lot of familiar drama and comic relief to present a subject that has never been seen in such a large visual medium.  Demme could have made a riskier film, but took a lighter approach to reach a wider audience.  Demme makes efforts to keep the audience comfortable with the topics by eliminating any graphic scenes among the characters

Look for the emotionally intense scene where one character describes an opera as his counterpart looks on.  The film also highlight some decent courtroom dramatics and many situations that further examine the myths and facts about AIDS.

The superstar status of Washington and Hanks helps the film reach a larger audience who might not have been adequately exposed to this subject matter.  Provocative ideals and a great music score/songs, including Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” and the Oscar nominated title song performed by Neil Young, help elevate this film to a high level of thoughtful entertainment.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

This entry was posted in 1990s Film Reviews, Film Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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