On the streets of Philadelphia
Has there ever been another film in the history of movie making to have challenged so many people to confront their own prejudices and ignorance. Dealing with the highly provocative subject of homosexuality and AIDS, "Philadelphia" does an excellent job of disbanding many of the myths surrounding both of the subjects. Not only does "Philadelphia" tell a powerful story of injustice, it is also a beautifully shot film, which has many scenes which will tug at your heart strings. It also allowed Tom Hanks to demonstrate that he was more than capable of performing serious roles as he had previously been better known for his comedy and romantic roles.
Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks - Sleepless in Seattle) is a promising lawyer with a glittering career ahead of him at a very prestigious law firm. Suddenly he finds himself sacked from his job for supposedly being incompetent and not having what it takes. He knows that the real reason is because have discovered that he is a homosexual suffering from AIDS. Aggrieved at the injustice he hires Joe Miller (Denzel Washington - The Pelican Brief), a personal injury lawyer, to help him defend his dignity and his professional reputation. At first Miller is reluctant to take on the case but when he reflects on the racial prejudices he has incurred, he agrees to take it on and in doing so, challenges his own prejudices against AIDS and homosexuality. As he fights for the reputation of Miller, he is also fighting against the ignorance and prejudices of society.
There were some critics who suggested that Tom Hanks was not convincing as a homosexual, what did they expect a bloke wearing lipstick, lycra and high heals. Part of the beauty of "Philadelphia" was that it attempted to destroy society's stereotypes of how homosexuals looked and acted. He must have been pretty good as he won an Oscar for his performance. It is quite surprising that with such a challenging subject, "Philadelphia" managed to attract such big audiences. The success has been partly put down to director Jonathan Demme getting Bruce Springsteen to provide the title track for the movie, which he felt would attract more people. Whether this is the reason, Springsteen's song "Streets of Philadelphia" really encapsulates the feeling of the movie with some very moving lyrics.
The main character in "Philadelphia" is Andrew Beckett, played by Tom Hanks, a successful lawyer who is being guided by his bosses at the law firm until they find out he is a Homosexual with AIDS. In the movie we see Beckett's health suffer as the effects of AIDS ravish his body. Too try and make his portrayal as realistic as possible, Hanks lost 26 pounds in weight during the duration of the filming, leaving him painfully thin by the end of it. Interestingly the role of Andrew Beckett was offered to other stars including Michael Keaton and Andy Garcia, fortunately for us Hanks won it.
The character of Joe Miller, Beckett's lawyer is played by Denzel Washington. As always with Washington, he provides a first class performance as Miller, a lawyer who for the first time has to deal with his own prejudices and ignorance's. A very good scene is where Andrew Beckett goes into Miller's office and while explaining that he has AIDS starts touching things around the room. You can see the fear on Millers face that he may now get infected. Fortunately we see him visit his doctor who dispels all the myths on how you can become infected. Originally this role was to be given to a comedy actor such as Bill Murray. Fortunately Washington expressed an interest in the role, and the director jumped at the chance of working with him.
The supporting cast is littered with such acting greats as Joanne Woodward, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen and Antonio Banderas. The entire supporting cast put in first class performances, which really do help to make this film a very emotional journey.
"Philadelphia" is directed by Jonathan Demme who had previously directed the award winning "The Silence of the Lambs". In my opinion he doesn't put a foot wrong and should have at least been honoured with an Oscar nomination (that year's best director Oscar was won by Steven Spielberg for Schindler's List). Demme has handled a very moving story with the respect it deserves. For example when you hear the bosses at the law form telling homosexual jokes, it is done in a way that doesn't make you laugh but actually makes you feel disgusted. What he has also done is to demonstrate that no matter what age, colour, race, religion or sexual orientation you may be, prejudice is as much of an illness as AIDS and cancer. There are so many great scenes in "Philadelphia" such as the opera scene or the power of the courtroom which are not only down to the actors brilliant performances but also the great direction of Demme. Interestingly he shot the film in sequence due to the fact that Hanks was gradually losing weight throughout the filming for his role.
Without spoiling "Philadelphia" for anyone, the soundtrack is absolutely critical. With a mixture of classical, contemporary and haunting ballads, the soundtrack really does complement "Philadelphia" as it takes you on the emotional journey.
What this all boils down to is that "Philadelphia" ranks as one of my top ten movies of all time, not only because of the excellent performances and great sound track, but it deals with a very real subject in a very real manner. It dispels so many myths associated with AIDS and homosexuality that I honestly believe that it should feature in the curriculum for Social Studies in our schools.