Philadelphia (1993)

(On DVD, June 2008) I avoided this film for years, convinced that it was “just” a big-issues tear-jerking drama with little more to it. But, hey, I was wrong: Despite the familiar themes and the goody-goody preachiness, there’s a solid drama in here, ably supported by Oscar-worthy acting by Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington. Director Jonathan Demme keeps things moving swiftly until the last act, where the film collapses upon its own dramatic weight from the aria sequence onward. Still, it’s a good script with some effective time-compression techniques: it’s a pleasure to watch until the lengthy final twenty minutes, and Washington’s character ably anchors the drama through a rough portrait of a Man Who Learns Better (But Not That Much). What’s perhaps most interesting, watching this film fifteen years later in a Canadian society that has evolved a lot since then, is that a number of the issues presented in the film are now self-obvious: homophobia is wrong, AIDS can be managed (especially with the newer drugs) and the controversial aspect of the film may not play as well among ever-larger progressive audiences. And that’s the way big-issues films should run: presenting aspirational ideas that eventually become mainstream. Well done.

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