Plot: What’s it about?
I first (and last) saw Philadelphia when it first opened in 1993. It was the movie that brought Tom Hanks his first Academy Award (he would repeat the next year with Forrest Gump). But most notably, it was the first studio movie that addressed the issue of AIDS. We don’t hear a lot about AIDS anymore, or not to the extent that we did when the film was released. But the heart of the movie wasn’t the patient with AIDS, how he fought it and those who opposed him, but rather the prejudice that he faced. Additionally, Hanks played the role very down to Earth and not choosing to play his character as the flamboyantly “queeny” stereotype that is associated with many homosexual men. The bottom line is that gay men and women are just like the rest of us and AIDS is an epidemic that has crossed the bounds of homosexuality into the heterosexual world. No other movie has addressed this issue like Philadelphia.
Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) has just been recognized as a partner in a prestigious Philadelphian law firm. He’s given a big case to handle and, once the partners find out of his disease, he’s taken off of it. Beckett is forcibly fired from his job and decides to sue them. The problem is that the firm is so powerful and respected, no lawyer in his right mind will take the case. Beckett enlists the help of Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), an attorney who advertises on television and is essentially doing the case for the exposure. Miller is prejudiced against homosexuals and has locked horns with Beckett in the courtroom before (he lost), but even the coldness of his heart has to see through the faces of AIDS. As the drama unfolds, we meet the defense in Belinda Conine (Mary Steenburgen) who does her job because she’s supposed to, but even admits to a member of her council that she despises the case. As we see Beckett lose more hair, weight and see AIDS take over his body, we’re naturally on his side from the very beginning. We become even more involved with Hanks’ character when we meet his lover played by Antonio Bandares and his mother (Joanne Woodward).
Philadelphia broke new ground when it came to a major movie about the AIDS. it’s played to near perfection by Tom Hanks, who would shift gears from this point forward with his role. Philadelphia may be referred to as “…that movie about AIDS”, but assuredly there are performances and issues that are more than that. The inborn prejudices that we have against people different than us and the human spirit are at the core of this film. Looking back, the movie really was ahead of its time. It sports an all-star cast and Hanks in a role that would help define his already thriving career.
Video: How does it look?
When it comes to films in 4K, no one does them better than Sony. This is more evident in their catalog releases than the new ones. As I mentioned above, it’s been twenty five years since I saw the film and having no real antecedent to compare this to, I went in with an empty slate. It amazes me, though, how good a film can look when it’s been properly mastered. Right off the bat the 1.85:1 HEVC 4K image comes to life with rich, vibrant colors. I found the color saturation more immersed and detail improved. For a look at what this movie used to look like, check out the included trailer. See? While some scenes have just a shade of grain associated with them, it adds to the texture of the film. Life isn’t flawless, but this transfer is.
Audio: How does it sound?
One doesn’t usually think of films like this sporting a Dolby Atmos soundtrack, but I have to admit that I was blown away by the audio quality. Granted, the movie is dialogue driven. The movie, on an audio scale, is much more remembered for the Oscar-winning title song “Streets of Philadelphia” performed by Bruce Springsteen. There are some scenes that really employ the use of every speaker and it’s used to great effect. Vocals are sharp, rich and crisp and surrounds, particularly the rear, are used sparingly. It’s a testament to the film that it can evoke such an emotional response and its use of sound to perpetuate that emotion.
Supplements: What are the extras?
A few new features have been added to this anniversary edition, and some of the previously-released material has been ported over. Of note, all of the extras can be found on the included Blu-ray.
- Audio Commentary – Director Jonathan Demme (who sadly passed away in 2017) and screenwriterRon Nyswaner collaborate on this track. The two seem very talkative and full of information. They recall some details about the shoot and also remember friends who have died from complications of AIDS. It’s a good track and worth a listen.
- Featurette Teaser from (Red) and Coca-Cola – New to this disc is a short retrospective on the movie and its long-lasting impact on the gay (and straight) community.
- Deleted Scenes – Eleven minutes’ worth, though I think the film did just fine without them.
- Andy & Joe
- I Can Heal Myself
- Pillow Talk
- Outnumbered Four to One
- Courthouse Protest Footage & Interviews – An extended look at the courtroom mob scene. This was probably the weakest of the supplements and though nice to have, I didn’t really see a purpose in this one.
- One Foot on a Banana Peel, the Other Foot in the Grave – Odd title, but the imagery is right on the mark. We’re guided through this by Daniel Chapman and see the effects of AIDS first hand. It’s a bit graphic, but the morale of the people is surprisingly upbeat (though they’re all deceased).
- People Like Us: Making Philadelphia If you’re looking for an hour-long documentary on the film, the lasting impact it had and tidbits here and there – look no further. New to this disc, this one has it all and it’s an intriguing watch.
- Original Making-Of Featurette – A vintage featurette that gives us the basics of the movie. Yes, interviews with the cast and crew, narration and what to expect.
- Joe Miller’s Macready Shilts Legal Services TV Spot – Denzel Washington’s character, Joe Miller, in a television commercial.
- Music Video – Winner of one of the film’s two Oscars, Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia.”
- Theatrical Trailer
The Bottom Line
There’s a reason it’s been 25 years since I last saw this film – it’s tough to watch. Yes, the performances, especially Hanks’ and Washington’s, are out of this world. However even though it’s been a quarter of a century, I wonder how much has changed regarding those with AIDS? Sony’s disc is amazing when it comes to picture and sound quality and the inclusion of several new supplements only sweetens the deal.