Saturday, February 4, 2012
It's not like the issue of homosexuality hadn't been touched upon before. It stretches back as far as the 1920's. Given the context the time and the introduction of the AIDs epidemic, this film allowed those simmering themes come to the fore. But there hasn't really been a film that tackles AIDs with such a succinct mood. Ron Nyswaner's script sinks its claws into that very problem. Jonathan Demme's direction turns those words into shards that penetrate through the thickest heart. It accomplished this at just the right time. Creating a piece that is distinctly 90's in its execution and mood (look no further than the Springsteen backed opening montage), yet feels contemporary in its overarching themes. A big part of this being contributed to Demme having faith in the ability of two actors. One who is coming off the DePalma flop Bonfire of the Vanities, the other a former Oscar winner for Glory.
The Tom Hanks persona is one of affection and admiration. A modern day Jimmy Stewart with whom you would give a big ole hug to as opposed to shrinking back in fear. Plug that persona into a character with AIDs and you have a homosexual character audiences can empathize with.
The character of Andrew Beckett is one who basks in life. The calm breeze that leads up to a billowing emanation of snow on a once quiet, deserted street. Andrew Beckett's openness and sheer love of life are so fully realized by Hanks that to think of another actor portraying him would be next to impossible. To see him ping pong off of Denzel in the courtroom scenes is one thing. To see Denzel's humanization of Beckett through listening to an opera achieves grand resonance. The realization of Beckett as not some 'tutti frutti' as an ignorant bartender would call it, but a real human being.
All of this- the courtoom scenes, the performances, come to a screeching halt. Two words . Words that cut deep with pain. "I'm ready" a bed ridden Beckett tells his lover. Jonathan, Tom, Denzel, Ron & Neil should all be commended in carrying the film from the battered courtroom steps to a loving rememberance of those stricken with AIDs. In its final moments, Philadelphia gives us that intangible feeling of humbleness and humility that these are people who should be as deserving of our respect as anyone else.
It really is quite a thrill when this happens.