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Philadelphia (1993)

Philadelphia movie poster.jpg

Tom Hanks is such a part of the universal film firmament that it’s difficult to accept he has been ignored yet again in the Academy Awards for Bridge of Spies, 22 years after he got his first Oscar for this, the major studio movie that brought AIDS to the masses.  By the time this role rolled along, he was generally thought to be a hugely likable, charismatic comic actor, especially for Big (1988). Here he’s a dying lawyer suing his firm for discrimination through a homophobic black law firm whose only practitioner advertises on TV for clientele. Denzel Washington is brash and vicious, which is precisely what is required. It’s strange to think of Hanks as being young. Here he is emaciated, young and perfect. However we learn next to nothing about him other than his love of the law – he remains a cipher for other people’s projected prejudice. Some of his scenes with onscreen boyfriend Antonio Banderas were (ironically) cut from the cinema release. And the family of the lawyer whose lawsuit and interviews inspired the film had to sue for compensation after producer Scott Rudin abandoned the first production and claimed not to have used their material. Hanks’ Oscar speech outed his high school drama teacher, an incident that led to a very funny film, In & Out, starring Kevin Kline. Hanks then won again the following year for Forrest Gump, yet he just gets better and better – he was brilliant in Apollo 13 (still Ron Howard’s best), convincing in the slyly comic Charlie Wilson’s War and thrillingly ordinary in Captain Phillips, until the final section when he gets to emote and break down (as you would after a Somali pirate group attacked you.) He has also achieved legendary status courtesy of the Toy Story films. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme has had an interesting career and here gives homage to early mentor Roger Corman with a cameo as a nasty CEO. He made Caged Heat amongst others under his tutelage. Further evidence of his exploitation days is in the casting of Charles Napier as the judge and director Stephanie Roth in a small role. And of course from his early shot at respectability there’s Jason Robards from Melvin and Howard as the reptilian head of the law firm that fired Andy. And it’s nice to see Quentin Crisp turning up to Denzel’s ‘first gay party’.  Writer Ron Nyswaner had cut his teeth doing fixing work on Smithereens and Swing Shift (directed by Demme) and more recently has worked on Ray Donovan and Homeland, two of the best TV shows in years. This is dated in the best sense of the term – it marks a watershed in mainstream entertainment.

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About elainelennon

An occasional movie-watching diary.

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