"Everyone in this room is your friend, more than your friend -- family." -- Wheeler to Beckett.
Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) is a young lawyer in Philadelphia who is going places -- until he gets AIDS. Although he tries to hide it from the partners, he is fired (just as much for being gay as for his illness) on a trumped up charge of incompetence. Turned down by most lawyers for a wrongful dismissal lawsuit, he is finally represented by ambulance chaser and part-time homophobe Joe Miller (Denzel Washington). Although Charles Wheeler (Jason Robards), the head of the firm, is importuned to settle with Beckett, the crusty old lawyer is not about to give in ... Philadelphia, the first major American movie to deal with AIDS and homophobia, is an admirable if flawed motion picture. It doesn't shy away from stark realities such as depicting the illness and its effect on other people; the way that gay partners are not considered "family" in the hospital; invisible gays and closet cases; and difficult questions about so-called "risky" behavior. On the other hand, with so many points to be made on such an issue, the characters sort of get lost, and the viewer probably gets to know Joe Miller better than it does Andrew Beckett. Andrew's partner Miguel (Antonio Banderas) is only given a couple of scenes, remains a distant figure, and worse, the two men seem more like friends than partners -- it's almost as if Banderas was afraid to ruin his "macho" image by kissing Hanks. Hanks [Road to Perdition] won a Best Actor Oscar, and is quite good, even if he's perhaps a bit too "fluttery" on certain occasions [the film seems to show the diversity of the gay male community, and even indulges in some stereotype-busting at times]. Washington [American Gangster], Robards [You Can't Take It With You], and Mary Steenburgen as opposing counsel are excellent, and there's an effective cameo by director Roger Corman as one of Beckett's former clients. As for the music (the main score is by Howard Shore), the soundtrack makes effective use of Maria Callas singing "La mamma morta" from Giordano's Andrea Chenier, although one wonders if either Bruce Springsteen (Oscar winner for the title tune) and Neil Young (composer of the haunting end-title piece "City of Brotherly Love") knew the subject matter before they wrote the songs.
Verdict: Whatever its imperfections this is an often powerful and very affecting picture. ***1/2.