003797Reviews & Counting
Philadelphia (SE)
DVD disk
11.02.2004 By: Indiana Sev
Philadelphia (SE) order
Jonathan Demme

Tom Hanks
Denzel Washington
Jason Robards


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Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a successful lawyer who suspects his recent dismissal from the most prestigious law firm in Philadelphia was due to discrimination (he has AIDS) rather than the trumped up charge of negligence and poor quality of work on his part. After several lawyers pass on representing him, it’s finally a homophobic ambulance chaser (Washington) that takes on what turns out to be an extremely high profile and controversial case.
This movie caused a lot of hoopla when it was released back in ’93, for it was the first Hollywood studio movie to fully tackle the subject of AIDS. Now, I don’t want to take anything away from the film, because it is still quite entertaining, but it certainly doesn’t come off as a groundbreaking film anymore. Even back when it was released, I personally didn’t think it was that big of a deal because by that time we’d already seen the subject matter covered for years, in news reports, documentaries and independent films; so when PHILADELPHIA finally came along, it seemed like it was just a little overdue…

What the film does succeed in doing is taking a deep look at a new kind of discrimination that grew as AIDS became more prevalent in the minds of the general public and how some people’s hatred towards gays got even more fueled as this new disease became a harsh and frightening reality in the world. I was a bit surprised to see the quote “An emotional powerhouse!” on the back cover of the DVD because as it does have its share of emotional scenes, they’re far from overwhelming and it isn’t likely that that is what you’ll take away from it in the end. The most memorable, powerful scenes, in fact, are those awkward moments that are examined as we see how people around Andrew react upon learning of his illness – the most famous ones being Washington’s reaction to Hanks in his office and the confrontation in the public library between Hanks and an employee there.

Demme also does an admirable job in making the City of Brotherly Love a real presence in the movie. The opening credit sequence is a beautiful montage of all the great sights of the city and its people, giving us a real sense of the metropolis. From the rich neighborhoods to the slums, from the working class to the homeless sleeping on the streets – it all plays wonderfully as we witness many of them waving to the camera, all from different backgrounds, cultures and races, and all very proud to be Philadelphians. To me, it’s one of the best opening credit sequences in recent memory. Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” plays over it all and it’s still as emotionally involving as it was back when it was ruling the airwaves in ‘93. The song is bookended nicely by Neil Young’s equally moving “Philadelphia” for the movie’s final sequence featuring home videos of Beckett as a child, playing and enjoying life to its full extent, as only a child could. The performances are ace, across the board, with a special tip of the hat going out to Washington and Jason Robards, who is always brilliant but seems to especially shine in Demme films (see: MELVIN & HOWARD). I’d qualify PHILADELPHIA as being a very good movie but falling just short of being great; it just didn’t seem to leave that lasting impression, a movie like this is expected to leave.
Audio Commentary by director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ron Nyswaner: Both Demme and Nyswaner are very enthusiastic participants throughout the track, remembering many of the actors who’ve passed away since its release, discussing casting choices, musical choices, etc. With hardly any lulls in it at all, this is one audio commentary track that’s as enjoyable to listen to, as it is informative.

People Like Us: Making Philadelphia (57 minutes): An impressive documentary that encompasses every aspect that went into the production of the film. Everything from casting, music, remembrances, public adoration, public outcry as well as all the many motivational elements that contributed to the film being made are included here; from its early stages of development up until Hank’s very moving Oscar speech. All the main actors and many of the crew contribute here.

One Foot on a Banana Peel, the Other in the Grave (1:17 minutes): A moving documentary that explores the many dialogues and personalities among AIDS-stricken patients frequenting a private New York clinic, circa 1992. A friend of the Demme family, Juan Bota, thought of bringing in a camera to make a video document of all his visits there by recording many of the conversations and interactions among the group; all in the hope of bringing some more understanding and a humanity to the disease. Many of the patients were dying or died soon after the filming. Bota died about halfway through.

Deleted Scenes: There are six, very short deleted scenes in total. Nothing spectacular here, should be good to check out of sheer curiosity.

Courthouse Protest Footage and Interviews: This is an extended version of the courthouse sequence in the film when Hanks and Washington come outside to face an onslaught of reporters, protestors and gay rights activists. There is about 3-4 minutes of interview footage with protestors and activists that didn’t make it into the film. The footage looks very amateurish since it’s all shot on video and isn’t transferred to film yet.

Original Making-Of Featurette (5 minutes): After the hour-long documentary and the audio commentary track this feature felt incredibly redundant. The fact that it’s only 5 minutes long makes it all the more useless. The only difference is you’ll see a few more bits of “on the set” footage.

Joe Miller TV Spots: This is pretty funny. See Washington’s cheesy TV spots for his law firm. This is a very typical slimeball lawyer TV ad.

Springsteen’s Streets of Philadelphia Music Video


This is a definite rental for all first-timers as well as those who haven’t seen it in years, as was the case with me. In fact, while you’re at the video store, grab MARRIED TO THE MOB too and make it a Jonathan Demme double bill this weekend. For those of you with some extra green to spend this month, you could do worse than this 2-disc Anniversary Edition; it’s loaded with extras so it definitely won’t disappoint you special feature junkies.
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