When a man with HIV is fired by his law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.When a man with HIV is fired by his law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.When a man with HIV is fired by his law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.
This film was made almost a quarter of a century ago, and I guess to make Beckett sympathetic in those times there had to be nothing negative in his background. Thus the great family, his great intellect and passion for the law, and the solid long term partner in Miguel. His only failing - unprotected sex once in a gay porn theatre while in a relationship with Miguel. Thus the AIDS.
There really is no leading lady in this film. Instead, there are two leading men. Andrew Beckett as the plaintiff who cannot find a lawyer to take his case, and Denzel Washington as the attorney who ultimately takes his case, although he is initially scared of Andy, scared of AIDS, repulsed by the idea of gay people. Washington as attorney Joe Miller is portrayed as a devoted family man and flamboyant personal injury lawyer who thinks no plaintiff is too stupid to defend - numerous warning signs, plaintiff ignores them, plaintiff falls into manhole, for example. Yet he will not take Andy's case, initially. It's only after he sees a connection as to how he is treated at the public library for being African American and how Andy is treated there for being obviously ill of AIDS does he change his mind.
Where the great acting lies is in the growing friendship between Andy and Joe as they work on the case together. It is a subtle gradual shift in Joe's outlook until at the end, he buys a bottle of Dom Perignon to give to Andy in the hospital when, due to the price, he would not buy a bottle of that same champagne to celebrate the birth of his own child at the beginning of the film.
Honorable mention to Jason Robards as the chief partner of the law firm being sued who is more upset about the indignity of being hauled before the Philadelphia legal establishment as a civil defendant than he is about any possible loss of money, and to Joanne Woodward as Andy's mom who keeps a stiff upper lip in front of her son, yet the fact that he is dying in front of her is tearing her up. Sorry Mary Steenburgen, you are a great actress, but you just don't have me believing that you "hate gays", but you do have me believing you are a great attorney.
Today, lots of the characterizations may leave you feeling like you were hit over the head with a sledge hammer by Captain Obvious, but remember the time frame. People still had preconceived notions about homosexuals as in they must be deviant or have had something in their past that made them "that way", and they were definitely scared of AIDS and still not sure it was that hard to contract. Stick around for the great acting by Washington and Hanks and a host of supporting players. And also stick around for the final scene. It will jerk at your heartstrings.
- Jul 4, 2017