Judge Patrick Naugle has nothing witty to say about this powerful piece of filmmaking.
Order in the court.
One of the defining moments of 1990s cinema was Philadelphia, a courtroom drama the tackled a litany of taboo subjects (for the time) and won multiple Academy Awards. Twilight Time has snagged the rights to release the Columbia TriStar film on Blu-ray in a 3,000 issue limited run.
Facts of the Case
Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks, Cloud Atlas) is on the rise as one of Philadelphia's top lawyers, having recently gained full partnership at one of the city's most prestigious law firms. Things seem to be going great until Andrew is abruptly dismissed for "poor job performance." However, Andrew has a different view as to why he was fired: Beckett's ex-boss Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards, Parenthood) and the other partners have discovered their newest partner is gay and has AIDS. As Andrew starts to slowly succumb to the disease, he hires fellow lawyer Joe Miller (Denzel Washington, Man on Fire) to defend this case against Andrew's former firm. At first repulsed and scared of the disease and lifestyle, Joe slowly learns to put aside his fears and prejudices and tackle this precedent setting case head on.
You know you've officially gotten old when a movie that was released two decades ago feels like just yesterday. Such is the case of director Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia, a film that won enormous accolades upon its initial release and was one of the first pictures to tackle the subject of AIDS and homophobia. Of course, these topics had been touched upon prior (Longtime Companion being an prime example), but this brought the hot button topics to the forefront of Hollywood and the masses.
Contextually, Philadelphia is a movie that strikes a chord in my own life. 1993 was the first year I knew anyone gay, even if it was still a secret for them and most of my friends. My reactions to this discovery were shock, confusion, and even disgust (keeping in mind this was through the lens of a 17 year old kid, still in high school, trying to figure out who he was). Twenty years later, I have at least half a dozen gay friends, one of whom has AIDS. Like many people, my view on the disease and homosexuality have matured over the decades and movies like this have shaped those views.
Philadelphia challenges its audience (more so in 1993) to empathize with a disease and lifestyle that seemed alien to many viewers. Though a fairly standard courtroom drama—you probably won't be surprised at how the whole thing turns out—the journey ends up being moving and important for both the characters and the audience. The soundtrack also plays a big role in the film, utilizing artists like Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen (whose song "Streets of Philadelphia" won an Oscar) to emphasize the struggle Andrew faces.
Philadelphia is seen as the movie that moved Tom Hanks from a comedic actor to a dramatic performer of immeasurable skill and talent. Hanks had previously stretched his acting chops in films that weren't out-and-out dramas (Punchline, Joe vs. The Volcano), but the one-two punch of Philadelphia and Forrest Gump (which also won Hanks an Oscar) proved him one of the best actors of his generation. Hanks makes Beckett a man of great sorrow and pain, filled with resolve and strength. It's a masterful stroke that offers viewers a protagonist they can really root for; witness Hanks listening to opera during the film's climactic moments and you will see an actor at the peak of his craft. Equally good is Denzel Washington as Beckett's lawyer. Miller starts off as a macho, homophobic man who slowly comes to realize that people are people, no matter their sexuality or medical history. Washington's role is even more complex, starting as a smug bigot who soon finds his opinions shaken to the core. Much of the supporting cast—Mary Steenburgen (Back to the Future Part III) as an opposing lawyer, and Joanne Woodward (The Three Faces of Eve) as Andrew's loving mother—are good, but it's really Hanks and Washington's show.
Viewed through a 2013 perspective, Philadelphia is by no means a perfect film. There are moments which haven't aged particularly well, especially the demonizing of Beckett's former law partners, who are shaped more like stock James Bond villains than three dimensional characters; dialogue like, "Andy brought AIDS into our office, into our men's room. He brought AIDS into our annual family picnic!" certainly doesn't help matters. The sometimes cloying screenplay by Ron Nyswaner (Mrs. Soffel) skitters the line between authentic and manipulative, especially during the climax when viewer's heartstrings aren't just tugged but hooked up to a 75 mph big rig.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen, Twilight Time has put together a nice transfer. Though Philadelphia was never very eye-catching to begin with, the colors and black levels are all solid and attractive. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track showcases a few moments of surround (mostly for Howard Shore's excellent film score), but this is a classic front heavy sound mix. Bonus features include an audio commentary with screenwriter Ron Nyswaner and director Jonathan Demme; an isolated track of Howard Shore's film score; a short making of featurette, some courthouse protest footage, a few deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer.
Philadelphia is many things: a striking courtroom drama, a rallying cry for those who are different, and a wake up call about an epidemic not just happening in America, but around the world. Although the film may have lost some of its edge, it hasn't lost any of its power to inspire hope that change can come, however slow.
This is one powerful film worth seeing. Get yours now before the 3,000 limited run is gone!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
Review content copyright © 2013 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.