Philadelphia review

Welcome to my first review for Major Film Reviews, first I must thank my great friend Nathan for allowing me to carry on his excellent work, as well making me very nervous by trying to live up to his exceptionally high standard of work.

Now let’s get on with what we’re all here for, the movie reviewing business, for which I have chosen what was described as an emotional powerhouse at the time of its release in 1993.

It is a very well trodden path to point out that this was the first part of Tom Hanks making history, by becoming the first man to win the Best Actor Academy Award in back-to-back years (Forrest Gump followed in 1994) but I thought recently, how does this film stand up, almost three decades on from its original release?

Philadelphia tells the story of gay man Andrew Beckett, who is suffering with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, some years after an anonymous sexual encounter with another man, in a gay porn theatre, all set in the city of Brotherly Love.

Obviously, before this movie came out, Philadelphia was mainly famous in film land, as the home of World Heavyweight Champion Rocky Balboa, this film definitely set about opening our eyes to a different subject matter, but one of crucial importance as people still struggled to come to terms with the reality of this incurable, infectious disease.

The Story:

This movie won a host of awards and it’s very easy to see why it was as popular as it clearly was ‘Back in the day’ and that is because it is still so prevalent and up to date now, nearly 30 years later.

Director Jonathan Demme definitely made some masterstrokes to create a genuine masterpiece, as the controversial subjects of homosexuality and Aids are tackled absolutely head on, with no quarter asked or given.

Meanwhile, the acting by Hanks and his tenth choice of attorney Denzel Washington, as the flamboyant, outgoing, egotistical counsellor Joe Miller, is nothing less than absolutely top drawer.

You are absolutely dragged in at the start of the film, with various visions from around Philadelphia itself, before the main subject is brought unflinchingly to your attention. It is beautiful in every way, with the future acquaintances battling it out professionally in front of a judge about the potential harm of an inner city construction, while there is even a masterful piece of scene-setting as they both get in a lift and the door closes with a particular message scraped on the door.

After this, you start to really get to the guts of this story, as Beckett is next seen at his regular Aids clinic, which gives you just enough of a snapshot of what he is facing, simply by looking around at the various people, in various stages of this debilitating illness, all around him.

The story moves along at a beautiful pace and some of the camerawork truly is a sight to behold, which is slightly surprising in what is a real-life, edgy sort of courtroom drama. What the film also does really well, is take on this potentially explosive, depressing story-line and turn it into something much more engaging, as well as hugely topical, while also including all of Beckett’s families trials and tribulations, during what is obviously an extremely difficult time for them.

The meetings between Beckett and Miller are very emotionally charged and it unstintingly looks at the problems Beckett faces, from the moment he tells his attorney that he has Aids, including even seeing some of the old fashioned prejudices in his own family and right through to the end.

The scene before Beckett’s final passing is very sensitively done, as each of his family get to say a final goodbye in their own personal ways, but the scene that really steals the show for me (whether you agree, is entirely up to you) is when Miller wants to go through a Q&A with Beckett, but his client is swept away by the legendary voice of Maria Callas which, without him answering a single question, convinces the attorney, that he is ready to take the stand in the packed courtroom.

All in all, it has to be said, that this piece of film-making is, undoubtedly a work of absolute genius, with power, poise, guts and an absolutely unflinching desire to confront a subject, where most would fear to tread.

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