Philadelphia (1993) Director: Jonathan Demme


Philadelphia is a heavy, cliché-ridden legal drama starring Tom Hanks in his Academy Award-winning role as Andrew Beckett, an up-and-coming attorney who hides his homosexuality and contracts the AIDS virus. After losing his job when his disease has become apparent (a lesion starts showing on his face), Beckett hires Joe Miller, a black attorney (played by Denzel Washington) who eventually realizes similarities between their different forms of discrimination (he is initially a fairly homophobic man). He decides too help Andrew Beckett in his lawsuit against the firm.

The film ends in both triumph and tragedy as the jury rules in favor of Beckett, awarding him around $5M in damages. It is a satisfying John Grisham-esque ending. However, at the end of the movie Beckett dies and the film closes with home movies of Beckett playing as a little boy. Joe Miller and his family attend Beckett’s funeral. Philadelphia is a film more about ‘raising the consciousness’ of people rather than producing a great work of art. It is an entertaining picture, particularly the court room drama, but it is also a work of transparent activism and I am skeptical of anything/anyone who appeals too strongly to human pathos.

Philadelphia was based on several high profile cases of attorneys who were fired after contracting the AIDS virus and then sued their employers in the 1980s. Along with Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen also won an Oscar for his song featured in the film: “Streets of Philadelphia.”

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