Monday, April 27, 2015
(December 1993, U.S.)
I suppose after you've just made a very scary and controversial thriller that also wins best picture of the year (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), then perhaps the only logical continuation is to continue stirring the shit storm! Taking on the subject of AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia all at once is a sure-fire way to do just that. To soften things up just a bit, you add the likes of Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and even a slow ballad by Bruce Springsteen. Makes for a great Oscar contender during the holiday season.
This film is based on a true story (because it seems that every worthwhile story is!) of a real life gay lawyer who was unjustly terminated from his law firm because it was discovered he had AIDS and subsequently won his lawsuit against his firm before succumbing to the deadly disease and is meant to stir our emotions and conviction of not only law and justice, but of our personal feelings toward AIDS and those who carry it. As Andrew Beckett, Tom Hanks is our protagonist and hero who's fighting for his legal and human rights in the face of prejudice and bigotry. And although many might attribute Tom Hanks' breakout performance in BIG (1988) after many years of cinematic stupidity, it's PHILADELPHIA in which he truly shines for the first time on screen. Denzel Washington, a solid and gifted actor by his own right, seems perfectly fit somehow to play lawyer Joe Miller, a man who's first purpose is to defend the law (despite advertising himself as an injury ambulance chaser!) that's been broken and still battle his own demons of homophobia and bigotry. I should also note that I can't help buy wonder if it was an intentional piece of casting to make this character a black man. Perhaps it's meant to further stress the implications of oppression from one man to another and the ultimate aid (no pun intended) and support they're finally able to bring to each other. As the story line would predict, Joe is a man who starts out as a closed-minded man of ignorance and prejudice and eventually comes to realize the importance of the human being he gets to know as he defends him in a court of law. And by the way, if I have to get negative about casting, Mary Steenburgen is rather irritating as the lawyer for the attorney's who are considered the "bad guys" of this film. A reasonably pleasant actress in general, her character comes off as nothing more than "textbook", particularly in the way she keeps repeating the word, "Fact" before giving every...well, fact, about Andrew's homosexual life and supposedly incompetent work habits. Very frustrating!
When the case does go before the court, the partners of the firm that fired Andrew take the defense in which they all claim that he was incompetent and that he'd deliberately tried to hide his life-threatening condition. The defense repeatedly suggests that Andrew had "invited" his illness through his reckless homosexual acts and was therefore not a victim (sounds a lot like the Ronald Reagan era!). But as the law and personal feelings of social anxiety towards AIDS and homosexuality come to pass during the trial, Andrew triumph over those who wronged him becomes clear and ultimately the truth to the jury that will find for Andrew. Unfortunately, as justice progresses and prevails, Andrew's health deteriorates and he ultimately ends up in the hospital where he dies by the end of the film (hardly a spoiler alert! Really, how did you think a story like this would end??). Our hero is dead, but his spirit of the big fight is meant to live in our minds and hearts forever. As a final sequence that's meant to be a good ol' fashioned tear-jerker, director Jonathan Demme really knows how to tear at our hearts! What could choke even the toughest person more than watching a video of the beloved deceased when he was just a little, angelic boy running along the beach with his family? Add the sweet soft voice of Neil Young with all of that and even the most cynical motherfucker such as myself can't help but shed a tear. My wife says she's never seen me cry. Perhaps she should watch more sad movies with me!
I suppose this post needs to finally conclude with my own personal feelings about homosexuality because such a question seems inevitable given the subject of the film. How shall I answer this? If there's been one consistency in my writing, it's that I've never held anything back with regard to my true feelings and opinion...never until now! As a man and a human being of this great country, I don't believe that anyone has the right to tell anyone else how to live their own lives, whatever those choices may be. However, that admirable conviction and my own personal feelings about homosexuality are not necessarily one and the same. That's all I'm willing to say, I'm afraid. To proceed any further at any level of true honestly is to likely offend a few, some or many of my readers. And while I generally don't give a flying rat's ass about what strangers think of me, I don't want to alienate my readers by saying anything offensive. Just know that, like it or not, popular or not, I'm still human, which means I'm loaded to the brink with faults. As for AIDS itself, I can only say that I'm old enough to remember its history and the talk that surrounded it when it first emerged to the public around 1981, or so. I remember Eddie Murphy's jokes about AIDS during his 1983 HBO Delirious show! I remember coming of sexual age during a time when extreme caution and protection was all I ever heard about. Today, I can only feign a certain degree of ignorance about AIDS. I know it still exists and I know there's no cure yet, but appears to be under control a lot more than it was back in previous decades. You just don't hear about it so much anymore. This is what I know and perhaps all I'll ever know, as such matter have never hit home on a personal level for me. So be it!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Judge Garrett: "In this courtroom, Mr.Miller, justice is blind to matters of race, creed, color, religion, and sexual orientation."
Joe Miller: "With all due respect, your honor, we don't live in this courtroom, do we?"