More than a decade after AIDS was first identified as a disease, "Philadelphia" marks the first time Hollywood has risked a big-budget film on the subject. No points for timeliness here; made-for-TV docudramas and the independent film "Longtime Companion" have already explored the subject, and "Philadelphia" breaks no new dramatic ground. Instead, it relies on the safe formula of the courtroom drama to add suspense and resolution to a story that, by its nature, should have little suspense and only one possible outcome.
And yet "Philadelphia" is quite a good film, on its own terms. And for moviegoers with an antipathy to AIDS but an enthusiasm for stars like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, it may help to broaden understanding of the disease. It's a ground-breaker like "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), the first major film about an interracial romance; it uses the chemistry of popular stars in a reliable genre to sidestep what looks like controversy.
The story involves Hanks as Andrew Beckett, a skillful lawyer in a big, old-line Philadelphia law firm. We know, although at first the law firm doesn't, that Beckett has AIDS. Visits to the clinic are part of his routine. Charles Wheeler, the senior partner (Jason Robards) hands Beckett a case involving the firm's most important client, and then, a few days later, another lawyer notices on Beckett's forehead the telltale lesions of the skin cancer associated with AIDS.
Beckett is yanked off the case and informed he doesn't have a future with the firm. He suspects he's being fired for being sick.
He's correct. (Wheeler, feeling somehow contaminated by association, barks to an associate, "He brought AIDS into our offices - into our men's room!") Beckett determines to take a stand, and sue the law firm. But his old firm is so powerful that no attorney in Philadelphia wants to take it on, until Beckett finally goes in desperation to Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), one of those lawyers who advertises on TV, promising to save your driver's license.
Miller doesn't like homosexuals, but agrees to take the case, mostly for the money and exposure. And then the story falls into the familiar patterns of a courtroom confrontation, with Mary Steenburgen playing the counsel for the old firm. (Her character has no appetite for what is obviously a fraudulent defense, and whispers "I hate this case!" to a member of her team.) The screenplay by Ron Nyswaner works subtly to avoid the standard cliches of the courtroom. Even as the case is progressing, the film's center of gravity switches from the trial to the progress of Beckett's disease, and we briefly meet his lover (Antonio Banderas) and his family, most especially his mother (Joanne Woodward), whose role is small but supplies two of the most powerful moments in the film. By the time the trial reaches its conclusion, the predictable outcome serves mostly as counterpoint for the movie's real ending.
The film was directed by Jonathan Demme, who with Nyswaner finds original ways to deal with some of the inevitable developments of their story. For example, it's obvious that at some point the scales will fall from the eyes of the Washington character, and he'll realize that his prejudices against homosexuals are wrong; he'll be able to see the Hanks character as a fellow human worthy of affection and respect. Such changes of heart are obligatory (see, for example, Spencer Tracy's acceptance of Sidney Poitier in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner").
But "Philadelphia" doesn't handle that transitional scene with lame dialogue or soppy extrusions of sincerity. Instead, in a brilliant and original scene, Hanks plays an aria from his favorite opera, one he identifies with in his dying state. Washington isn't an opera fan, but as the music plays and Hanks talks over it, passionately explaining it, Washington undergoes a conversion of the soul. What he sees, finally, is a man who loves life and does not want to leave it. And then the action cuts to Washington's home, late at night, as he stares sleeplessly into the darkness, and we understand what he is feeling.
Scenes like that are not only wonderful, but frustrating, because they suggest what the whole movie could have been like if the filmmakers had taken a leap of faith. But then the film might not have been made at all; the reassuring rhythms of the courtroom drama, I imagine, are what made this material palatable to the executives in charge of signing the checks.
"Philadelphia" is a good movie, and sometimes more than that, and the Hanks performance (which, after all, really exists outside the plot) is one of the best of the year. Sooner or later, Hollywood had to address one of the most important subjects of our time, and with "Philadelphia" the ice has been broken.
In a year or two, it will be time for another film to consider the subject more unblinkingly. This is a righteous first step.
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In the movie Philadelphia a lawyer named Joe
miller takes a heroic journey. His journey is
taking a case dealing with an Aids patience that is
working in a distinguished law firm . Andrew
Beckon is wrongfully accused of losing an
important document regarding an important cort
case. To make the call of this hero more
interesting, he has a personal problem with
homosexual behaver . Also , he has to deal
with society "s mindset on gays. Joe turns
down the call at first, but then receives it after
realizing that, Andrew Beckon has no one
Next, in the hero"s journey Joe goes though the
"jumping off point" of his journey. He is
interfaced between the know, that Andrew
Becker was fired from his job at the law firm.
Also, The unknown why was he fired from a
well-known law firm after being called " One Of
the best", by the head director. Joe Miller is
faced with finding the facts, mainly about why
was this "promising" lawyer without a job? Was
the firing of Andrew Beckon because he was an
active homosexual with Aids? This being one of
the biggest struggles taken by this hero?
Now, In this case Joe faces many challenges.
One: being how people really feel about
homosexuals. The second: proving to the journey
that sex preference does not hold an individual
working ability . The Third challenge, being up
against highly trained layers being accused of
firing aid patience. The forth challenge dealing
with, finding out why Andrew was really fired.
Though the Joe"s whole journey there are two
helpers. One Andrew Beckon himself , is aware
of what other law firms reactions are to aids
patience working for them. The other being Joe"s
wife making him aware of whom in their family
is homosexual. With both of them influencing this
hero, Joe is shown that some things are really are
an important risk.He is just learnig that not
everyone thinks his way( Man and woman).
Now at this point in the movie Philadelphia Joe
ungues the abyss. He is faced with the greatest
challenge of his whole journey. Can he win this
case before Andrew passes on? Also, do
homosexuals really make people more or less of
a person? He cannot take any more challenges
until he looks though himself to find the answers
to defend Andrew.
Joe Miller encounters a drastic change in the way
he thinks and views about homosexuals; after
going though the case. In the beginnings of his
quest Joe is afraid to even touch Andrew. Now
he is like a brother to him, part of the family in a
sense. He now seems to look at homosexuals in a
new light. He sees that your sex preference
doesn"t define you spirit as a person.
Finally, Joe returns to reality, after Andrew"s
death he sees what an impact Andrew has had on
his life, Joe is able to understand the life of a
hard working man. All Andrew wanted to do was
reprsent people in a court of law as best as he
Lastly, Joe understands why people stereotype
but, also why
things that you do in your personal life are
different, than the attitude and ability to work as
an individual." You"re truly a good man" Joe tells
Andrew on his deathbed. In return this is a lot for
Joe to deal with because of his feelings toward
the whole situation. "Thanks for everything "
replies Andrew as Joe is sliding his oxygen mask
up to avoid slipping, Joe learns "not to judge a
book by it"s cover" but what"s inside.
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