Philadelphia is pretty much the best-case scenario for an Oscar-bait film: A movie, beneath its preachiness, that is beautiful, lovingly-made, and deeply-felt.
Few social topics have shifted more rapidly in my lifetime than liberal acceptance of homosexuality. Thirty years on, the rampant homophobia presented in this movie as socially benign, especially at the beginning of the film, is extremely jarring. It makes Philadelphia feel like a bit of an alien artifact.
But if it takes a little bit of mental gymnastics to put yourself in the mindset of audiences three decades ago, it’s worth it. Jonathan Demme immerses you in the two-fronted trench warfare against homophobia: First, against the big, cruel institutions; second, against the skeptical hearts of the everyday people.
Denzel Washington is in his element as a lawyer, keeping the procedural stuff compelling for the full two hours. But it’s Tom Hanks that leaves a real impression: He’s completely transformed as Andrew Beckett, carrying him with equal strength and vulnerability, especially as his body and resolve deteriorate towards the end of the film.
Demme gives the film passion and palpable ache. It’s never enough to shake off the Oscar bait trappings — this is an “important issue” film through and through — but full of life nonetheless.
- Review Project: Tom Hanks Retrospective
Very Good (6/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.