(Best sung to Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia”)
Lawyer Andrew Beckett is on top of his game
And earns from his law firm great acclaim.
But when he gets AIDS, he starts wasting away,
And is fired because he’s gay
On the streets of Philadelphia.
He seeks representation from a Joe Miller, who
Isn’t pleased with Andy’s plan to sue
His former bosses for the unfair break,
Which they claimed was for a lone mistake
They feigned in Philadelphia.
Joe takes a while to decide to assist,
Even though he wanted to resist.
He is scared of AIDS and has clear disdain,
But he opts to act the more humane
To this man of Philadelphia.
In the courtroom, Andy and his former firm
Make their cases, causing all to squirm.
Andy’s partner, family, and folks with signs
Give their full support, as he declines
In full view of Philadelphia.
Andy then collapses as the jury hears
All the witnesses with talk and tears.
Though he wins the battle against bigotry,
He still passes on, no more to see
The streets of Philadelphia.

While TV shows like St. Elsewhere had highlighted homosexuality and AIDS in certain episodes, Philadelphia was one of the first films to bring it to the forefront with masterful actors and expert direction. Tom Hanks gives an astounding, Oscar-winning performance; the scene in which he comes outside after being declined help from Joe Miller is particularly affecting, since it epitomizes what Thoreau called “quiet desperation,” something I’ve felt myself. Denzel Washington is equally superb as Andy’s lawyer Joe Miller. It also features Antonio Banderas in one of his first English roles to garner wide recognition.

It’s a fantastic courtroom drama and a truly powerful film that isn’t just about gay people and discrimination but about treating everyone with humanity and respect, regardless of their race, gender, etc. One may not agree with Andrew Beckett’s lifestyle, but the film focuses on him as a person, his professionalism and skill as a lawyer, his love of opera, and his affectionate family. Miller himself is wary of Beckett at first, and there’s little indication that his gut feelings toward homosexuals have changed by the end, but he sees Andy as not just “a gay” but as a human being and cares enough to straighten Andy’s oxygen mask, despite his initial fear of AIDS.

As with his prior hit The Silence of the Lambs,director Jonathan Demme heightens the drama by utilizing his proven tactic of having the actors look straight into the camera for many scenes. (It’s so effective that I wonder why the same technique was criticized in the recent version of Les Miserables.)

The film starts and ends very strongly. First, Bruce Springsteen’s Oscar-winning song “Streets of Philadelphia” sets the somber mood for the whole film, and at the end is an incredibly melancholy scene in which Andy’s friends and family gather to mourn his death and watch old family movies of him as a child. It’s an utterly poignant final scene, demonstrating how the world and life’s choices can turn an innocent little boy into a gaunt man on his deathbed a scene earlier. Though it has the requisite profanity and crude dialogue, Philadelphia is a sad but influential film that opened up many conversations upon its release and one that continues to be timely to this day.

Best line: (the Judge) “In this courtroom, Mr. Miller, justice is blind to matters of race, creed, color, religion, and sexual orientation.” (Joe) “With all due respect, Your Honor, we don’t live in this courtroom, do we?”

VC’s best line: (Joe Miller, repeated several times) “Explain this to me like I’m a six-year-old.”

Artistry: 10
Characters/Actors: 10
Entertainment: 8
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 10
Watchability: 6
Other (language and some subject matter): -2
TOTAL: 42 out of 60

Next: #198 – Doc Hollywood

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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