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Film Review
by J. C. Adamson


Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Roberta Maxwell, Buzz Kilman, Karen Finley, Daniel Chapman, Joanne Woodward, Jason Robards, Robert Ridgely, Antonio Banderas, Warren Miller, Julius Erving, more

RatingMust see (for Tom Hanks's performance)


Philadelphia puts a human face on AIDS. Most of us have seen AIDS as a faceless threat, as somebody else's disease, as an inhuman evil. Most Americans haven't yet lost a brother, a lover or a son to this recently born killer.

Surely most of us fear AIDS. Many fear, or even hate its victims. Hate and the fear are both easier to maintain when we stay comfortably withdrawn. Philadelphia bridges the distance.

Tom Hanks delivers a powerhouse performance. He was courageous. I'm not talking about the courage of his character. I'm talking about the courage of Tom Hanks, the actor, in digging deep enough to find the truth in the role of a weakening, dying, gay, AIDS-ridden young man. I'm talking about the courage it took to live that role for us, once he had found it.

We've grown to expect capable performance from Denzel Washington, and he doesn't disappoint us as a small- time ambulance-chasing lawyer suing a huge and powerful law firm. This isn't the best of Washington 's recent work, though. At times I couldn't tell where he was going with the role. Admittedly, the character is supposed to be confused about his feelings and reactions through much of the film. But, he's too confused.

Most of the performances are solid. I was quite impressed with Jason Robards' portrayal of the tough senior partner of the goliath firm..

Philadelphia does a lot of good things, but in the last analysis, it overdoes most of them. What's happened to subtlety? Many scenes are too long, particularly the gay party, the opera lesson, and the cutesy epilogue flashback. The sentimentality was overdrawn.

I wanted more of a beginning to the story. It moves dizzyingly fast into the meat of the tale. We don't know the characters before we're asked to identify with them. On balance, " Philadelphia " is a good work. It's an important film today. It may not be as compelling a few years from now, even though Tom Hanks masterful performance will always be worth watching.

See it, feel it. You'll learn something about yourself in the process.

© 1993, J.C. Adamson

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copyright © 2010, J. C. Adamson