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PHILADELPHIA
Anniversary Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, Antonio Banderas
Director: Jonathan Demme
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.0, French, Spanish & Japanese Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 125 Minutes
Release Date: November 2, 2004

"In this courtroom, Mr. Miller, justice is blind to matters of race, creed, color, religion, and sexual orientation."

"With all do respect, your honor…we don't live in this courtroom, though, do we?"

Film ****

If a film has the ability to bring awareness to an important issue, then it has definitely achieved something phenomenal. One of the few movies I can honestly say that had such an effect on me was Philadelphia. It brought to my attention something that I knew very little of, and it made me something of a more open minded person in the process.

When I first saw the movie, I had just entered high school, and I was aware of the AIDS disease but never knew anyone who had it. Thus, the film was able to make me feel as if I did know somebody with this disease, in the form of the lead character. The movie served as something of an education of the effect of the illness to the masses who either didn't know too much of it or were too afraid to know anything, mixing in a servable story about wrongful discrimination.

Tom Hanks gives a stirring portrayal of a man struggling with the AIDS virus in the role that garnered him his first Oscar for Best Actor. Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a highly successful attorney who works for perhaps the biggest law firm in Philadelphia. Not too long after he is made partner of the firm by his boss and mentor, Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards), Beckett is suddenly fired by his law firm for alleged incompetence.

His bosses claim he was let go for misplacing an important document for a huge client, but Beckett knows from minute one that his condition and sexual orientation are indeed the primal cause. With no one to turn to, Beckett consults Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), a personal injury lawyer to help him pursue litigation. To his surprise, Joe doesn't want the case for personal reasons, despite being astonished that he is the ninth lawyer Beckett has tried to convince.

As it turns out, Joe doesn't admire the homosexual community. After witnessing Beckett getting some slight discrimination at a library, Joe confronts the ill lawyer and the two are soon in agreement to go forth with Beckett's discrimination lawsuit. Justice is intended to be sought out, though it's questionable whether Joe's view point on homosexuals will change.

One of the more endearing aspects of Philadelphia is the portrait of Beckett's family, who is there to support him through the course of the difficult trial. Here is a family that is presented as a strong loving unit for the ill fated Andrew, which is something most refreshing to see in a mainstream film. If handled otherwise, I'm willing to bet that we would've had at least one character at odds with Andrew over his lifestyle, etc.

In addition to having some hard-hitting courtroom scenes, the movie also has many memorable moments away from the courtroom. Most of which involves Joe's conflicting view on gays in the midst of those who know him (a scene where he loses after being hit on by a gay law student in a grocery store is most memorable), and of course the scenes with Beckett and his family. But perhaps the most memorable scene the defines the entire film is where Beckett, an opera devotee, gives a passionate translation of La Momma Morta, where he expresses his welcoming of death in the midst of displaying a love for continued life. The way Joe reacts to this is indeed the most astonishing aspect of this scene. If any moment in this film sealed the Best Actor Oscar for Hanks, this one was it.

What Philadelphia represents is a harrowing expression of pure open mindedness and honesty. Director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner put the audience right with Andrew's ordeal, right up the inevitable and emotionally wrenching end. And Tom Hanks' ultimately human portrayal of a professionally accountable person seeking justice for an unnecessary action is indeed one of the most triumphant acting accomplishments of the last decade.

If anything, Philadelphia still manages to make quite an impact just as it did ten years ago. If a film has the ability to open one's eyes to something like the AIDS epidemic and to remind people homosexuals are humans, too, that is an accomplishment worth celebrating, and this movie as achieved just that.

Video ***1/2

I remember owning a copy of the first DVD release for Philadelphia, which was one of the first movies to be released to the format. Watching this new presentation, I can very much admit that this is an improvement, even though the original disc wasn't a terrible presentation at all. The anamorphic picture is solidly clear and largely detailed, given a shoddy moment or two. It makes an effective display of Jonathan Demme's directing and the cinematography of longtime Demme collaborator, Tak Fujimoto.

Audio ***

The Dolby 5.0 mix makes amazingly good use of this dialogue driven drama. Dialogue is delivered with a hundred percent clarity, and many background noises in numerous scenes make a certain presence felt. Music is another strong point, with a score by Howard Shore accompanying most of the film, along with many memorable tracks by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.

Features ****

This brand new 2 disc Anniversary Edition, courtesy of Columbia Tri Star, boasts plentiful, wonderful extras.

Disc 1 includes the feature film and a commentary track with Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner.

Disc 2 kicks off with two incredible documentaries. The first is "People Like Us: Making Philadelphia", which is an hour long retrospective on the making of the movie, the second is a personal short documentary titled "One Foot On a Banana Peel, The Other Foot In the Grave", which chronicles a group of AIDS patients telling their own short stories in a doctor's office. Also included is the original making of featurette for the movie, deleted scenes, the powerful music video for Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia", some extra courthouse protest/interview footage, a commercial for Joe Miller's law firm, trailers and filmographies.

Summary:

AIDS still remains, and Philadelphia should be given huge credit for bringing awareness of the illness to the masses. It also marks a remarkable career highlight for Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and director Jonathan Demme, whose film made a most powerful statement.

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