patrickryanlewis

Philadelphia

In Movie Reviews, Uncategorized on June 28, 2010 at 1:11 am

Philadelphia attorney Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks, in an Oscar-winning role) launches a wrongful termination suit against the hand that feeds him when his law firm finds out about his HIV-positive status — and his homosexuality — and fires him. Denzel Washington co-stars as a homophobic lawyer who reluctantly agrees to take Andy’s case in this Jonathan Demme-directed film, the first major-studio picture to tackle the topic of AIDS.

One thing you absolutely positively must do when before watching this movie is to remember the time it was made. AIDS was not nearly as talked about or “accepted” (for lack of a better term) in 1993 like it is today. It was seen only as a gay disease, and anyone diagnosed with it was instantly outcasted. The film works much better and is a much more powerful statement if you can put yourself into that frame of mind before watching it.

This was the movie which started Tom Hanks’ “golden period” as I like to call it (Forrest Gump and Saving Private Ryan rounded out his Oscar trifecta). As Andrew Beckett, Hanks is smug yet likable in the first quarter of the movie. He has that big city lawyer swagger and bravado you so often see in movies. Washington on the other hand plays the other stereotype you see so often in movie lawyers. The hustler, come from the streets guy. At the very beginning of the movie, their differences are shown in the elevator scene. Whereas Hanks’ Beckett scoffs at the down on his luck occupant in the elevator, Washington’s character actually tries to recruit him as a client. This subtle seen speaks volumes to the type of characters portrayed later in the movie.

The firm Andrew Beckett works for is full of rich and powerful white men, who look down on those who they feel are beneath them. You get the sense that in a way, Washington’s character wants to be in that class too, as evidenced by the seen in the drug store when the man tries to pick him up. But there is also a deep hatred Washington has for the men in Hanks’ firm, and this is the compelling piece to the movie.

Johnathon Demme, who I feel does not direct nearly enough movies, weaves the viewer in and out of a world of law without getting them lost. It is a difficult task to watch a movie so heavily invested in legal issues, yet still bring out the emotions of the characters. I think one reason Demme was able to do this is because the cast is spot on. Everyone from Antonio Banderas as Hanks’ lover who is accepted so openly into the family to Jason Robbards as the head of the powerful firm who fires Beckett works well in their role.

This is not a movie for the timid. It tackles (and was the first to tackle) a subject which is still dances around lightly today. Some of the scenes will make you very uncomfortable. But sometimes movies should do that. You should not always feel light and happy when stepping away from a movie. Sometimes you need to question yourself and how you view others. And this is the film to start with when wanting to do that.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

(available on Netflix instant view as well)

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