A young Philadelphia lawyer with AIDS is the victim of irrational fear of the disease and fights back in the courts where even his own attorney is phobic. — Genre: Feature Film-Drama — Rating: PG13 — Release Date: 7-JUN-2005
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Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 02/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""This is the essence of discrimination: Formulating opinions about others not based on their individual merits, but rather on their membership in a group with assumed characteristics." (School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1987) (Brennan, J.), on remand, 692 F. Supp. 1286 (M.D. Fla. 1988)). This rule, reaffirmed by the landmark Supreme Court decision which, over the dissent of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia, first recognized the infection with a contagious disease (tuberculosis) as an actionable handicap under federal law, forms the initial bond between star litigator Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) and ambulance chaser Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), the unlikely team at the center of this movie. Because through these words, black attorney Miller begins to realize that his colleague Beckett faces a handicap which, in essence, is not so different from that confronted by many of his fellow African Americans. And because this is an incredibly effectively scripted Hollywood movie, we, the audience, easily get the point as well; even if we're white, and even if we're not gay and/or suffering from AIDS like Beckett.
Of course, the insidiousness of the AIDS virus places those afflicted with it in a class of their own, and while the movie spares its viewers the pictures of some of the virus's most graphic effects, it does go to considerable length to show the physical decline associated with it - not only in the person of Beckett himself, for whose role Hanks literally almost starved himself. Some of the patients surrounding him in the movie's earlier emergency room scenes really were AIDS patients, whom Hanks had approached when preparing for the movie, and who had subsequently agreed to participate; and as Hanks emphasized during an appearance in Bravo TV's "Inside the Actors' Studio," not all of them are still alive. - Denzel Washington's appropriately named Joe Miller, middle class everyman in everything but the color of his skin (one of the movie's obvious bows to political correctness), displays an attitude uncomfortably familiar to many of us; shunning gays in general and the HIV-infected Beckett in particular, out of a mixture of ignorance about AIDS, prejudice against those suffering from it, and prejudice against gays. Both Hanks and Washington give strikingly emotional, profound performances that rank among the best in their respective careers - Hanks deservedly won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for his portrayal of Beckett, but Washington unfairly wasn't even nominated for either. Yet, neither of them would have been able to shine as much as they do without their exceptional supporting cast; to name just two, Jason Robards, commanding as ever as Beckett's homophobic former boss (and role model!), and Antonio Banderas as his devoted lover.
By the time of "Philadelphia"'s release, some of the early myths about AIDS had begun to disappear, and the yearly growing numbers of newly infected patients had brought it out of its erstwhile obscurity as "the gay plague." But indepth knowledge was still far from widespread, and therefore the movie not only brought awareness to the disease in general, but also made a couple of important points, from educating the public about the disease's method of transmission to emphasizing that it is by no means limited to gays and can even be contracted in something as life-affirming as a blood transfusion. (Indeed, several European countries were rocked by transfusion-related AIDS scandals right around the time of the movie's release). One of "Philadelphia"'s most quietly powerful scenes is the testimony of a female witness who was infected by just such a transfusion, and who emphasizes that having AIDS is not a matter of sin or morality: "I don't consider myself any different from anyone else with this disease. I'm not guilty, I'm not innocent, I'm just trying to survive," she responds when asked to confirm that in her case "there was no behavior on [her] part" involved and contracting AIDS was something she was "unable to avoid." - Moreover, four years before Ellen DeGeneres rocked the showboat with a kiss during an episode of her sitcom, and Kevin Kline and Magnum macho Tom Selleck locked lips in "In and Out" (the screenplay of which was inspired by Hanks's Oscar acceptance speech for "Philadelphia"), it was by no means a given that a movie would get away with letting Hanks and Banderas exchange acts of tenderness from caresses and kisses on the hand to a slow dance at a gay party.
Given "Philadelphia"'s fundamental message and the memorable performances of its protagonists, it is a pity that the movie doesn't entirely avoid Hollywood pitfalls, such as its soggy ending with grease literally dripping off the screen and the undeniable taste of a sugar-coated afterthought, transmitting the message that even dying of AIDS is really not so terrible, at least for the surviving family who can still unite around the television set and wallow in their memories of their lost loved one. And while I do buy Joe Miller's transformation from a (somewhat stereotypical) homophobic male to a reluctant supporter of gay rights, I don't really see why Beckett suddenly assumes a cliche gay look the second he has been fired; not to mention that I suspect not everybody in his situation would have enjoyed such overwhelming support from his family.
But ultimately, it is the movie's overarching message that counts. "Ain't no angel gonna greet me; it's just you and I my friend ... and my clothes don't fit me no more: I walked a thousand miles just to slip this skin," sings Bruce Springsteen, the movie's other Oscar winner, in "Philadelphia"'s title song. And Justice Brennan wrote in the Supreme Court's Arline decision that in amending federal law, Congress was motivated by "discrimination stemming not only from simple prejudice, but also from archaic attitudes and laws." This movie goes a long way in dispelling such attitudes. It alone isn't enough - but it is, as Andrew Beckett jokes about the 1000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean, a good start.
Also recommended: Philadelphia And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, 20th-Anniversary Edition In & Out Saving Private Ryan (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition)"
As Powerful As Ever
James Morris | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 05/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I purchase a lot of DVDs. For the past few years, it seems that almost every DVD comes in a special edition two-disc release that includes deleted scenes, documentaries, cast bios, trailers, teaser trailers, music videos, and the director's recipe for three-alarm chili. I usually don't have time to get beyond the first disc, and much of what I do get around to usually turns out to be as boring as it gets. This time, however, I am happy to report that the two-disc anniversary release of Philadelphia is worth both the money and the time invested in it, even if you already have Philadelphia on DVD.
The special features include the 84-minute documentary, One Foot On A Banana Peel and the Other In the Grave, an extraordinary piece of amateur filmmaking by an AIDS patient named Juan Botas. What I did not know was that Mr. Botas' AIDS diagnosis provided the inspiration for director Jonathan Demme to make Philadelphia in the first place, as Mr. Botas was best friends with Mr. Demme's wife. In the meanwhile, Mr. Botas mentioned to filmmaker Demme that it was a shame that the black humor, amazing courage and other interesting dialogue that emanated from his fellow patients at the clinic where he was being treated was being lost forever as it left their lips. Mr. Demme gave Mr. Botas his hand-held camera, and the results so impressed Demme that he wound up releasing the documentary through his own production company. The finished film is touching, oddly comic, tragic and as effecting as any piece of drama you've ever witnessed. One of the patients from the doctor's office was also given a few lines in the main feature, Philadelphia.
Which brings us to that film. At the time of its release, Philadelphia received some very harsh criticism from the AIDS community for its perceived flaws; it was judged by many as "too Hollywood" to be realistically representative of the HIV / AIDS experience. To their credit, in the background documentary included here, "People Like Us" (which was the original working title of Philadelphia) the creative team behind Philadelphia (including Jonathan Demme, Tom Hanks and the screenwriter Ron Nyswaner) meet this criticism head on, presenting a defense of their work that is both credible and illuminating. Many complained that Philadelphia was void of any tenderness or physical contact between the male couple (Hanks and Bandaras) but this is not only redressed by a closer look at their scenes together, an extremely intimate scene between the lovers in bed (which was excised from the final cut) was deleted not for its controversy but because the scene simply didn't work (having now seen it, I can attest to this fact). I have long seen this movie as not a film about AIDS per se, but as a film about homophobia. Indeed, the main thrust of the plot (besides the trial) is the transformation of the character of Joe Miller from committed homophobe to a more enlightened and tolerant person. One of my favorite scenes (which it turns out many people wanted to delete from the final cut) deals subtly with Millers transformation - the "opera scene".
In that scene, Miller is asked by the character or Andy what he thinks about gay people. The attorney responds that, when straight people think of them at all, most straight people pretty much see all gay people as some sort of sub-human predatory monsters, out to ensnare the children of the world into a twisted sick life, and destroy all that straight people hold dear. Andy abruptly changes the subject, "Do you like opera, Joe?" he asks. Caught by surprise, Joe admits he does not know anything about it - and Andy Beckett - this sub-human destroyer of children, responds by tenderly and passionately explaining his deep love for beautiful music by allowing Joe to see just a small piece of exactly why so many gay men love opera. He plays the aria La Mama Morte, carefully, passionately and articulately explaining the story and the beauty behind the words and music. Joe is immediately transformed - it's clear that he is deeply moved. By playing the piece, La Mama Morte through again in its entirety, the screenwriter and director shows us that the music has stayed with Joe long after he's left Andy's home. We see him leave Andy's apartment and go home in a sort of daze, kiss his sleeping baby and slip into bed with his slumbering wife, while the beauty of the music haunts and caresses him, like a gorgeous gay lullaby. Some of my gay friends were among those who didn't get this scene - they saw it only as a stereotypical depiction of a gay man's love for opera. I got it right away - by exposing Joe to a thing of beauty he'd never experienced before, Andy had suddenly allowed Joe to consider that gay men were not only something more than what he thought, he demonstrated that we are capable of enormous passion and the ability to appreciate delicate beauty. This scene, more than any other, allowed Andrew Beckett to be transformed from a predatory sub-human freak into a human being, not only for Joe Miller, but for many in the straight audience. It has remained one of my favorite scenes in a movie ever, and a small part of what makes Philadelphia such a powerful experience.
Highly recommended. "
Gripping And Compelling
David Anderson | St. Cloud, MN | 01/03/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Philadelphia", based on a true story, is one of the best releases of 1993, starring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Mary Steenbergen, Antonio Banderes, and more. Its production was extra crutial being that during the time of release, many were still severely fearing AIDS. The producers accomplish every scene wonderfully. The movie's portrayal of AIDS and its victims is very accurate to reality. The plot was written beautifully, though sad. It explores more than just AIDS; it explores discrimination against those who have it and against homosexuals. Such combination remains ahead of its time. The plot becomes more interesting as Andy Beckett's lawyer becomes more educated about such issues and begins changing his beliefs about them. Its emotional impact is intense, never held back for a second. It forces audiences to feel the events. The movie is more than entertainment; it's also educational.Tom Hanks's Oscar winning performance as Beckett is heartwrenching. His every drop of heart and soul was poured through his performance. His previous hardcore research about the lifestyle, the disease, and the actual events is obvious. This is one of many movies that proves that Tom Hanks is one of the best actors in history. Denzel Washington's performance as Beckett's lawyer is beautiful. His acting skill proves very crutial in his character's personality and point of view. All other actors, major or minor, also perform their roles wonderfully. Everyone, including Hanks and Washington, offers their own useful emotional prospective to this movie.Bruce Springsteen's Oscar winning song "Streets of Philadelphia" is a beautiful way to begin the movie. Its dark theme matches the plot perfectly. It also offers new prospectives to the movie. This song will be a classic in the following years. The original score was also composed beautifully(not by Springsteen), giving the movie more intensity and emotion.The make-up team's research of AIDS and its victims proved highly crutial. Their work on Tom Hanks was highly accurate to reality. There were no flaws to the physical symptoms, ranging from skin tone, changing hair color, lesions, and eyes."Philadelphia" is a great movie for those looking for a powerdrama. This is sure to please audience for many years to come."
VERY VERY GOOD
R. Penola | NYC, NY United States | 01/10/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Jonathan Demme is a director who manages to infuse his movies with wonderful subtle touches, like the all-important opening sequence in this movie, a montage of the City of Brotherly Love -- spiraling faces, painted murals, bombed out sections of old town -- to the haunting Springsteen song. As a mainstream movie about AIDS this is top-notch. Hanks is heartbreaking, as is Joanne Woodward in her usual no-nonsense form. The opera scene seems a bit over the top, and I miss a real connection between Hanks and his hot Latin lover Antonio Banderas, but this movie went a long way in bringing the disease and its presence among us real and acceptable to many more people. Responsible and poignant."
An `important' film that is highly `over-hyped'...
Andrew Ellington | I'm kind of everywhere | 05/20/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"`Philadelphia' tells the heroic tale of Andrew Beckett, a one time hot young lawyer who was unjustly fired from his job when his superiors discovered he was suffering from the AIDS virus. At times this film is extremely touching and ultimately it is inspiring, but it suffers from clichés and an air of simplicity that robs it of any real emotional impact. I won't say that this is a bad film; it is just not a great one.
Andrew Beckett is young and smart and steadily climbing the corporate ladder in his law firm. He has a caring young boyfriend and very caring and understanding parents; yet something is terribly wrong. Andrew has contracted the deadly virus known as AIDS and as time progresses this virus begins to ware away at his health. He conceals this disease from his workmates, but when his illness becomes visible he is unable to hide it any longer and he finds himself being fired. Of course the law firm will not admit their reasons are based on his physical condition, but the reason given is so shaky that it leads Beckett to conclude the obvious. This is when Beckett approaches lawyer Joe Miller to represent him on trial. Joe turns down the case claiming that he doesn't think Beckett's lawsuit would hold up in court but it is more than obvious that Beckett's condition as well as his `alternative' lifestyle sit crossly with Miller and are the real reasons for his refusal to help. Joe does have a change of heart though and takes on Beckett as a client.
The initial concept for the film (loosely based on a true account) is intriguing and stock full of potential, but I feel as though it missed the boat somewhere. Many parts of the film seem clichéd to me, as if they were just presenting us with what we think we are supposed to see. I can't help but feel too that the film was a tad too simple, one-dimensional even. There really seemed to be no true character development (aside from Miller) and this just didn't sit right with me.
This leads me to Hanks.
I have a feeling I am in the minority here but I just didn't appreciate Tom Hanks' performance. I felt that it was clichéd and gimmicky and in the end it never really felt `real'. I never felt like I really knew `who' Andrew Beckett was. I knew his circumstance and I knew his plight, but I didn't know him. Hanks tries to explain Beckett to us during an excruciating opera scene where Hanks reaches levels of ridiculousness I just couldn't believe would be omitted in this film. The scene itself should have been stirring and emotionally reaching but Hanks just didn't get it and it comes off mediocre at best. As a whole I felt that his performance was weak when compared to his co-stars, especially Denzel, who completely owed his performance.
Denzel Washington really surprised me here. His performance is by far the best in the film, for he actually tells the audience a story. We know where this man came from, why he feels the way he does; we know what upsets him and what makes him uncomfortable and ultimately we see a progression of character, real growth that delivers to us the man he is when the credits begin to role. This is much more than can be said for Hanks' portrayal of Andrew Beckett. In my humble opinion Oscar got this all wrong, awarding Hanks for a playing a gimmick yet snubbing Washington for creating an honest character.
The supporting players are decent here, some better than others. Antonio Banderas has a tendency to over-act, sometimes it works (his Zorro is flawless) and other times it is too much, which is the case here.
Director Jonathan Demme had a lot to live up to with all the attention and praise he garnered for `The Silence of the Lambs', but he just couldn't really pull this one together. The film plays out well, it looks good, and there are moments that touch the audience, but there is not the intended impact; at least not for me. I know that a lot of people really enjoy this film, laud it even and I know that the critics sang its praises (or at least Hanks' praises) but I can't do either. The film is important in that it takes its serious subject very seriously and it proved to open the eyes of many to a growing problem, but in the end I'm just not `that' impressed. Washington is award worthy, that is for sure, but the film as a whole is lacking."