Rarely, a movie comes along that is the perfect synthesis of writer, director and cast. Philadelphia is one of these rare pieces. It is a simple story told over many generation, each with its own twists. It is the story of prejudice and the fear that follows. Here, the story does not center around race or religion but rather sexual orientation and being the victim of a fatal disease. A bright, hard working lawyer is dismissed suddenly from a prestigious job. They say it was do to incompetence but it was because it was discovered that he was a homosexual and that he had AIDS. The young lawyer sues his former employers, not for the money, he would be dead soon, but for the right to be treated as a human being. A powerful story that calls to mind such classics as A Gentlemans Agreement, Black Like Me and Guess Whos Coming to Dinner. The tale may center on a different group but the message is the same, people deserve to be treated with the innate right of respect.
The cast for this film could not have been better cast. Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, the young lawyer with AIDS. Hanks lost a lot of weight to play this film and his commitment did not end there. He brings a humanity and dignity to the role that posses such great depth that the audience can not help but to sit in awe of his performance, a performance that earn Hanks his first Oscar for Best Actor. As the disease progresses throughout the film Hanks is not only made up look like a man dying but his whole demeanor visibly weakens. Still, in the midst of his weakness his inner strength and conviction grows. The Lawyer that defends him is Joe Miller (Denzel Washington) one of those ambulance chasers after a settlement that are always shown on late night TV. In fact, throughout the movie Miller is called that TV guy. The head of the firm is a staple of American acting, Jason Robards, a man that has provided power and feeling to roles fore decades. What separates a great movie from an exceptional one lies in the casting of peripheral roles. Here, the title exception has to be applied. Becketts mother is played with a love and sensitivity that truly reflects a mothers love. Played by Joanne Woodward no better choice could have been made. The same goes for parts like Becketts significant other, Antonio Banderas and the defense attorney, Mary Steenburgen. The fact that so many really gifted actors would take secondary roles demonstrates that they are in their line of work for the love of the art form and this is reflected in the rare heights this movie reaches.
The director is no stranger to tackling the difficult subject. Jonathan Demme, director of Silence of the Lambs shows us all how a movie should be directed. His use of the camera is brilliant. During Ms Steenburgens time questioning the witnesses the camera is tilted. Everything this lawyer represents is tilted and slanted to help her clients get away with what they did. Scenes with Miller examining the witnesses the camera is straight fully focused. The lens used providing clarity to reflect the truth being sought. Add to this a soundtrack that is powerful while never overpowering the action. Included in this sound track is the Oscar winning song, Philadelphia, by Bruce Springsteen.
The only downside to this disc is the lack of special features. I would have greatly enjoyed a commentary by Hanks and Demme. Still, the anamorphic transfer of the video is fantastic. The Dolby 5.1 remix provides a full, enveloping sound that places you in the middle of the set. This movie is what a drama should be, it touches your heart and holds up the power that human dignity can achieve.