Philadelphia (1993) – Jonathan Demme


The next title following my screening of On the Waterfront for the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book is this classic drama that features the combined star power of Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington.

I hadn’t seen this one since it was in the theater, and I was eager to have another look at it after so many years. There was one thing I noticed, that maybe I just didn’t clue into before, or maybe just filed away subconsciously… Demme shoots a lot of the dialogue with his stars in a head and shoulders close-up, with the characters speaking directly at the camera, this is, of course, done to involve the audience more directly and emotionally, as the material is presented to them.

Hanks, an actor I have always admired, and I think would be one of my favorite people to chat/interview, won an Oscar for Best Actor in his stunning turn as Andy Beckett. An exemplary lawyer, who when his firm learns that he is suffering from AIDS fires him, and he is forced to turn to a homophobic, not quite ambulance chaser, lawyer Joe Miller (Washington) to sue his former company for damages and wrongful dismissal based on discrimination.

The courtroom sequences, filmed in an actual courtroom, are presided over by Judge Garnett (Charles Napier), and are completely engaging as witnesses are examined and cross-examined, and a legal dance over what is legal and illegal is discussed, as opposed to what is right and wrong.

Mary Steenburgen plays the defense lawyer, Belinda Conine, who is working to protect the firm, including Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards), and she walks a fine line, arguing the defense’s case, without having her character turn into just a villainous lawyer. She’s a human character, I’m not so sure about the people she’s representing.


Antonio Banderas takes on a smaller role in this one, playing Beckett’s supporting and loving partner, Miguel. There are also, along with Napier, some familiar faces from Demme’s previous feature Silence of the Lambs, popping up in smaller roles, like Daniel von Bargen, as well as a few others.

The film, while not so subtle in its message, is still incredible to watch, filled with great performances, and wonderfully shot against the backdrop of the City of Brotherly Love.

I was actually rather surprised how quickly the story moved along, as Beckett continues to deteriorate before our eyes, 44 minutes into the two-hour film, we’re in the courtroom, and that’s where the bulk of the remainder of the film takes place, and because of the way it’s shot, edited and performed, noting falters at all.

Opening the film is Bruce Springsteen’s Oscar-winning song, Streets of Philadelphia, and I’d totally forgotten it, until the film began, and like everything else, it works perfectly, weaving around the narrative of the story, encapsulating it.

I was more than happy to view this one again, and it’s films like this that remind me how much I love Tom Hanks’ performances.

A beautiful film.



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