Philadelphia (1993)
Philadelphia (1993)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 5 min.

Release Date: December 22nd, 1993 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Jonathan Demme Actors: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Roberta Maxwell, Joanne Woodward, Jason Robards, Antonio Banderas, Bradley Whitford, Mary Steenburgen

 


 

“P

hiladelphia” is a powerful courtroom drama, flourished with a heart-wrenching character study, the eye-opening investigation of prejudices, and potent commentary on the fear of the unknown. It questions rights by way of interrogating discrimination, while showcasing eloquent performances with tense legal stagecraft. It may not be constantly edge-of-your-seat, but it’s intelligent and beautifully executed, suggesting that director Jonathan Demme is as comfortable with cinematic artistry as he is with suspense. Furthermore, he not only loves close-up camerawork that provokes stunning performances by his gifted cast, but also scenes of great musical prowess – including operatic reveries not unlike Hannibal Lecter’s gratifying moment of Bach.

Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) works for one of the most competitive and winning law firms in Philadelphia. He’s an adept lawyer, entirely capable of the incredibly important task he’s just been assigned, involving paperwork that must be filed before the statue of limitations interferes with his case. But when the legal documents mysteriously disappear, he’s suddenly and unexplainably fired. The conservative law firm claims his performance was incompetent and unacceptable – but Andrew knows he was sabotaged and then dismissed for having concealed from the company his homosexuality and his status as an AIDS patient.

After exhausting his nine top choices in Philadelphia with no luck, Andrew visits homophobic, small-time, TV-commercial lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), who also abruptly turns down the wrongful termination suit. After asserting his manhood and disgust toward gays to his wife, Joe experiences a change of heart when he notices Andrew studying at the same library – and tolerating unspeakable prejudice at the hands of an uncomfortable librarian. Joe is suddenly inspired to adopt an air of sympathy and the litigation of an underdog, tackling one of the toughest rivals in the industry and his own insecurities about homosexuality and AIDS.

The opposing lawyers, led by cold and ruthless intimidator Mary Steenburgen, suggest that Beckett’s debilitating disease is not the problem – but the way he acquired it was morally corrupt. Feeding off the ignorance of the average person, she reasons that another AIDS-afflicted lawyer, a woman who accidentally received it when getting a blood transfusion, was not the same – she acquired it through no fault of her own. Homosexuality becomes the common enemy as Joe rallies against seemingly insurmountable narrow-mindedness. And it was certainly a view held by many, as “Philadelphia” was one of the very first mainstream projects to tackle the controversial subject matter.

Every actor’s contribution to the film is noteworthy, especially when Demme chooses to bestir them with intrusive camera angles and lingering scenes of emotional poignancy; Tom Hanks would go on to win the Best Actor Oscar and Golden Globe for his stunning portrayal. Toward the rousing conclusion, the idea of equality in the face of mortality becomes more important than the verdict, supplementing difficult decisions and complicated actions by a cast of unforgettable players. Whether or not the courtroom theatrics influence fervor or further biases, the authentic people and heavy concepts analyzed prove to be endlessly thought-provoking.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10