Philadelphia: Film Review

Philadelphia - Film Review

Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, is a film about a lawyer who is fired from his firm as a result of a combination of his homosexuality and his diagnosis with AIDS. As Andy (Hanks) seeks compensation for wrongful termination, he enlists the help of rival lawyer and unabashed homophobe Joe Miller (Washington) in a suit against one of the most influential law firms in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, Andy’s health deteriorates, with his family at his side. The film was released to warm critical reception, including two Oscar wins and three more nominations.

I’m honestly a little mixed about this one. On one hand, Philadelphia is a sharply written and sharply performed piece of film, with a potent message and well thought out storyline. What’s not to like? On the other hand, the film can get a little wacky and unclear, on more than a few instances. There’s a solid five-minute-long sequence involving Andy narrating an opera piece, while Denzel sits there mirroring my confusion. Similarly, there are times where the soundtrack comes across as out of place, such as in the aforementioned scene and in moments earlier in the film. Of course it’s possible that these scenes had more to them than met my eye, it could have gone over my head, but in the moment it reads like a lack of clarity in the director’s head, which detracted from the overall potency of the film.

That’s not to say the film was generally ineffective. For the most part, the film is engaging, through Hanks’ and Washington’s collectively excellent performances and a very well penned screenplay. There are moments, especially in the first half hour, where we could very easily have been watching a Rob Reiner film, with moments of deadly focus integrated into a witty scaffolding. As well as the screenplay, the writers have done an impeccable job on development of their characters, supplemented by strong performances. Hanks, who did of course win the Oscar for Best Actor, is exquisite, delivering a layered and emotional performance as the gentle Andrew Beckett. Washington is not to be forgotten, though the undersold stars of the film are the supporting cast, who do a phenomenal job padding the corners on a thoroughly well performed film.

Possibly the greatest triumph of the film, however, is its exploration on a conceptual level. This is a film way, way ahead of it’s time. A film released in 1993 speaking out against homophobia and AIDS is a rarity, and the information and representation the film imparts is nothing short of public service. There’s something to the context of a black man standing up for the rights of a homosexual man that warms the heart, made even more layered by the arc of the black man’s perspective on the subject of homosexuality and AIDS in general. The quality of the writing is high enough that the film navigates the taboos of the time with sensitivity and awareness.

This is a weird one. I’m in awe of the writers of this film, with the way they’ve discussed such a topic at such a time in such a rounded and sensitive way. The performances are exhilarating, and the character arcs are excellent. This should’ve been an exceptional film. So why wasn’t it? It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what was off about the film. I put it down to some poor decisions from the director in terms of some strange sound effect and some weird scenes overall. It’s a shame that these would mar what could have been a truly great film. Me finding them weird is not a guarantee that you’ll find it weird, again it’s possible that it just went over my head, so I would definitely recommend this film.

-Aman Datta

Aman’s Rating: 74/100                                                                      Aryamaan’s Rating: 83/100