Rated: PG-13 Reviewed by: Chris Release date: December 24, 1993 Released by: Columbia TriStar
As the first major studio release of a film about AIDS, it has the weighty responsibility to be both truthful about the horrors of the disease and entertaining to a broad audience. Philadelphia does that admirably.
Tom Hanks stars as Andrew Beckett, a top-notch lawyer employed by a prestigious law firm. He's a young go-getter, who keeps the fact that he's gay a secret from his employers.
The firm, headed by Jason Robards, shows its faith in his ability by giving Beckett its most difficult and important case.
Beckett's fired when the case file is misplaced and then mysteriously reappears minutes before it has to be filed in court. But, Beckett is sure he's been let go because the partners suspect he has AIDS after one of them questions a lesion on his forehead.
He decides to sue the firm for wrongful dismissal and takes his case to many other lawyers who turn him down, before he finally ends up at Attorney Joe Miller's office. Miller, played by Denzel Washington, is an ambulance chaser who advertises on television and gives out his business cars to potential accident victims in elevators and on the street. But, he's also a knowledgeable and dedicated lawyer.
Miller refuses the case at first because of his dislike of homosexuals and his fear of being near anyone with AIDS. He has a change of heart when he finds out from his doctor that he can't contract the disease by touching or being near someone who has it, and when he sees Beckett, alone and ostracized, researching his own case in a law library.
Some terrific actors co-star in this film: Antonio Banderas (Mambo Kings) plays Beckett's caring lover; Mary Steenburgen plays the defense lawyer and Joanne Woodward, always a joy to watch, plays Beckett's loving mother.
Besides the court room drama, some of Beckett's personal life is explored. He's shown partying with gay friends, enduring painful treatments and blood transfusions, and through it all, his family is understanding and supportive. Other than a strange, very long scene where Beckett explains a Maria Callas aria to Miller, while moving slowly around his apartment seemingly in a trance, all of this is done with sensitivity.
Washington, who brings style to everything he does, is very believable as a good lawyer with some fears which he works to overcome. Hanks who lost over 30 pounds for this role, is marvelous as Beckett. His gestures, halting voice and gaunt face, along with a terrific make-up job, paint a very emotional picture of a dying man. Hanks puts a face and personality on a dreaded and devastating disease.
Director Jonathan Demme has made a meaningful, entertaining and very thought-provoking film.