When I was in the fifth grade in the mid-1980s, I can remember doing a science project about a fledging virus and the impact that it had on the human body. All of the material I had gotten from my father who worked in the National Cancer Institute, but I had little epiphanous thoughts that the thing I did a project on was the AIDS virus. I did not know who it was affecting, nor did I really understand the lack of addressing the treatment of same. There were some steps here and there towards awareness to and funding for treatment and possible prevention of the disease, but few productions managed to bring a spotlight to the dying and/or dead with such a broad stroke that Philadelphia seemed to.
Written by Ron Nyswaner (Why Stop Now) and directed by Jonathan Demme in a follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs, Andy Beckett (Tom Hanks, Cloud Atlas) is a successful lawyer in a Philadelphia law firm. Andy is also gay and receiving treatments for AIDS, both of which he is keeping from the firm. He is eventually dismissed when his illness becomes public, and he hires a lawyer to assist him with a wrongful termination suit. Enter Joe Miller (Denzel Washington, Safe House). Joe is married with a baby on the way and is a bit of a bottom feeder when it comes to his law practice, and also has some prejudices when it comes to homosexuals and AIDS. He eventually agrees to take on the case, and the pair take on Andy's former boss (Jason Robards, Magnolia) while Andy struggles to stay alive.
I think the big thing that made so many people accept what Philadelphia was trying to tell is the story was not as editorial as some would have anticipated it being. Andy is a nice guy who works hard, is rewarded for doing so, and is punished for something that is simply none of his co-workers' business. Now, the argument could be made that Andy was living in a slightly closeted manner, and that how he was going about things should have been better made public and he should have been more out and honest with others. And that argument could have possibly been used on either side of the fence. But I think when it comes to addressing the issue of the day that was something that Demme and Nyswaner were not focused on. The issue of the stigma around the disease was their concentration, and that concentration is rewarded. We are brought along as a passenger to Andy's dilemma, and done so non-judgmentally. And that perspective is the right one for a movie like this in 1993.
Along with Andy's dilemma, the evolution of Joe's beliefs is one that may not be as valued through the years but it is just as good. Late in the film when Andy and his lover Miguel (Antonio Banderas, Once Upon a Time in Mexico) are staging Andy's â€˜funeral,' Joe attends, but he comes home, kisses his newborn child and goes to bed with his wife. The slow close-up of him eventually tearing up serves as his moment of clarity. Considering his character at the beginning of the film was embarrassed, even insulted, in being mentioned in the same breath as a homosexual, it is a touching visual. Hanks got the Oscar and it was well-deserved, but Washington certainly matched him stride for stride when it came to character evolution and emotion.
It is almost hard to fathom that it has been two decades since Philadelphia came out, but moreover, waxing nostalgic on the behaviors of people of the time and the slow evolution of those behaviors since then occasionally blows the mind. The film has a legacy that is based less on its critical merits than it does as a signpost of the times with a hopeful eye towards moving the needle on perceptions of homosexuality and AIDS, and if Demme and company were geared towards the latter, it's easy to say they accomplished that.
Philadelphia comes to us in 1.85:1 widescreen, and in high-definition using the AVC encode. I was surprised to see the level of detail in the image be as abundant as it was; facial detailing in the film's many shots of its lawyers looking directly into the camera is solid. The color palette is reproduced nicely and bruising and KS legions look natural without additional image processing. Considering the source material, Twilight Time does right by the film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track is not too bad considering the film's dialogue-forward nature. The songs of Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young come through clear and without distortion, making use of the rear channels on occasion. Crowd and other ambient noise also quietly and effectively makes its presence known also, and despite any real use of the subwoofer, the soundtrack is robust listening material. And the previously mentioned dialogue is clean and well-balanced. Not bad to listen to.
The biggest extra of the bunch is a commentary with Demme and Nyswaner. It is quite the jovial track, with the pair recalling decisions on casting and on the production in general. Their first thoughts on listening to the film's music (which also can be listened to on an isolated track, by the way) are talked about. The work in landing the bigger names is recounting and how each individual's personal lives influenced them at the time of the production. The initial hopes for the movie are mentioned along with the legacy and impact of it to boot. It tends to lose a bit of momentum around the 45-minute mark and they tend to watch the film more, but it is a good commentary. Next are six deleted scenes (11:18) which while being very good (including one where the court's pretrial motions occur) are understandably excised. The courthouse protest footage and interviews that would be used a bit in the film follow (4:26), and the making of on the film (5:59) is of the time and includes interviews with Hanks, Washington and Demme. The film's trailer (3:03) completes things.
It should be noted that most but not all of the extras from the 2004 standard definition Anniversary Edition have been ported over for this Twilight Time Blu-ray release. Gone is the funny TV spot with an in-character Washington and two short films about AIDS and its impact on society and those who suffer from it in "One Foot on a Banana Peel, the Other Foot in the Grave" and "People Like Us: The Making of Philadelphia." There is a UK release coming later in the year from Sony though the supplements are to be determined, but it may be worth keeping an ear to the ground for.
Two decades later, Philadelphia seems to still resonate with viewers because if nothing else, the distance one further gets from it makes them appreciate the various nuances the film offers if it was not seen the first time. I would suspect many have seen it already and if not, it is appointment viewing at a minimum. A purchasing decision remains up in the air with a pending international release that may actually be a true port of the Anniversary Edition, but that remains to be seen.