Original title: Philadelphia
Director: Jonathan Demme
Scenario: Ron Nyswaner
Actors: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Anna Deavere Smith
Distribution: TriStar Pictures
Release Date: March 9, 1994
Tom Hanks, a great figure in American cinema, won the Oscar for best actor for Philadelphia, directed by Jonathan Demme. Philadelphia, a film that marked an entire generation as one of the first to deal with AIDS.
Synopsis : Andrew Beckett, a young lawyer with a meteoric career, finds himself promoted as a sign of recognition by his peers. Yes, but there you are, the day they discover that he has AIDS, they do not hesitate to dismiss him for “professional misconduct”. A great lover of the law, sure of his rights, Andrew calls on Joe Miller to take legal action against them for unfair dismissal.
A landmark film
Philadelphia tells the story of a man, Andrew Beckett, a brilliant gay lawyer with AIDS. Everything seems to smile at him, fulfilled in his relationship, formed with Antonio Banderas, surrounded and accepted as he is by all of his family. The film is set in the early 1990s, when people are starting to understand what this disease is, which is very well explained in the film! We see the ignorance and fear that this disease spreads. Andrew is a son to his mother and he tries to keep her away from her illness by explaining to her that all is well and that he is going to get out of it, which is far from being the case …
Overnight, just after being promoted, Andrew finds himself sacked by his bosses, men whom he deeply respects and admires, for non-existent professional misconduct. In fact, they learned from a reliable source that he is both homosexual but above all suffering from AIDS, which does not match brand image of partner company. Andrew, sure of his rights, decides, despite the disease which makes him weaker and weaker, to sue the said company in court and chooses Joe Miller, interpreted by Denzel Washington, lawyer who pierces, young father of family and relatively closed to the idea of working for a homosexual AIDS patient. Nevertheless, Joe manages to get over his fears and decides to take the case.
The case was quickly publicized and raised crowds insofar as it answers extremely contemporary questions of the time. Anti-gay and even anti-AIDS protesters are massing in court and booing Andrew Beckett. Ultimately, this film is less about a man who is fired for no reason than about people’s acceptance of homosexuals and AIDS patients in society. Thus, the case, publicized, manipulated, opposes and forces to position, in order to change customs and mental representations, but which remains extremely violent for the applicant, Andrew Beckett, and his family as a whole.
A love story
Philadelphia it’s also a story about love in the broad sense. The love of his partner, Miguel Alvarez, professor, who supports him despite all the difficulties, a love made of tenderness and admiration. Without deflowering the suspense we can nevertheless say that the latter remains very loyal to Andrew, very integrated into the family of his lover, and present until the end, despite everything. Antonio Banderas who plays Miguel is really amazing, you don’t necessarily imagine in this kind of role, and yet it succeeds rather well.
There is also the love of his family, extremely touching by his openness but also by her solidarity in the worst trials she has to go through. The family scenes are both funny and moving. The actors play very well and we feel real group cohesion which strengthens the film! This family, undoubtedly a little idealized, remains an example to follow and is a dream! Andrew’s father and mother are excellent.
More broadly we can also speak of love in the sense of tolerance and friendship, two aspects seen through the prism of the relationship between Andrew and his lawyer, Joe. While Joe remains relatively distant at the start, a real friendship is formed between the two men, beyond their differences, going beyond Joe’s prejudices.
A brilliant film
So, yes this film may be a bit long, yes the subject is not the funniest in the world, but it impresses in all its dimensions : the story, the actors, the monologues, the music too (hence the Oscar for best song for Bruce Springsteen!).
What is really striking is Tom Hanks: what an actor! It transforms, transforms into the character, and serves the story magically! This actor is really exceptional and deserves the Oscar he won thanks to this film! It’s funny, moving, strong and fragile, it goes from one state to another and upsets the viewer: it’s really impressive! I would particularly like to remember two high-flying scenes, one on a reinterpretation of opera where you feel like you’re flying away (but where?), And the other on a monologue in court where it transgresses all prejudices!
And the theme: AIDS. In the early 1990s, you have to imagine, put yourself in context, to really understand the scope of this film which is part of the pantheon of committed films.
A very good film, committed, carried by an exceptional actor, Tom Hanks, to see at least once in his life!