Retro Review: “Philadelphia”

By Tony McDaniel

The Daily Egyptian’s Tony McDaniel and Jack Robinson watched the film “Philadelphia”, which was given three and a half out four when it was released, to see if it stands up to the test of time.

The 1993 film, “Philadelphia” (PG-13; 125 min.) depicts the struggles of a man with AIDS living in a world that doesn’t understand his illness.

Jonathan Demme directed the drama that stars Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington.


Andrew Beckett (Hanks) is a young homosexual lawyer who becomes afflicted with the deadly AIDS virus. He had recently been promoted until a curious accident in the workplace causes him to lose his job.

Beckett was in charge of a very important case for his firm. He had all the court documents on his desk and they seemed to be misplaced. The documents were miraculously found just before court started, saving the firm, but leaving Hanks looking incompetent.

Beckett was then fired and he believed he was sabotaged because the firm had grown aware of his deadly virus and wanted a reason to fire him. Beckett then seeks legal counsel from Joe Miller (Washington). Miller is first afraid of Beckett, not only with Beckett’s AIDS, but also with his homosexuality.

Miller at first denies taking the case, however, he then changes his mind when he sees Beckett being mistreated in a public library. Miller then wins the trial for Beckett, which comes right as Beckett is on the last leg of his life.


“Philadelphia” is an important film for it’s time, but the message does not hit home the same way in 2014.

At the time of the film’s release the public’s view on the homosexual community and AIDS was quite different than today. The public did not understand AIDS, and the homosexual community was feared more than accepted.


In essence that is what made “Philadelphia” such a good film; it addressed an issue that the rest of America was afraid to talk about at the time.

As for the film itself, Hanks and Washington both perform as the two Academy Award winners are expected to.

One of the things Washington does so well in his role is show angry outbursts—think back to his role as a football coach in “Remember the Titans.”

Washington provides the same kind of performance in Philadelphia. He goes on several rants both inside and outside the courtroom as he deals with his homophobia throughout the film.

Hanks’ character is on the verge of death for most of the film, and he plays a very believable AIDS patient. Hanks’ performance in “Philadelphia” catapulted him into stardom. The next three films he starred in were “Forest Gump,” “Apollo 13” and “Toy Story.” There is no question his performance in “Philadelphia” earned him those roles.

Several scenes of the movie are shot poorly. The speaker often breaks the fourth wall, which gives the feel they are speaking directly to the viewer. It can make watching the film uncomfortable from time-to-time.

There is also an uncomfortably long scene in which Beckett waltzes around his apartment and describes an opera song to Miller. This scene doesn’t add much to the movie, and is shot from above as Beckett dances around with his IV in tow. The scene was awkward and brought the film to halt.

Apart from the few shortfalls this movie it is still a good watch 21 years later. The message isn’t the same today, but the film is still a good commentary on how the homosexual community and the AIDS infected were viewed in the early 1990s.

Stars: 3 out of 5.


“Philadelphia” addresses the price of prejudice not only in the workplace, but also in life.

Throughout the movie, Miller expresses his displeasure for homosexuals, citing all the common clichés. Even though he talks about how he dislikes gays, Miller doesn’t seem to have a problem with Beckett as the movie progresses. It is apparent Miller is uncomfortable in some situations where homosexuality is prevalent, but he doesn’t often react.

This movie was released at a time, 1993, where AIDS was in full bloom and there were not as many treatment possibilities as there are today. Getting HIV/AIDS was a death sentence in the 1980s, whereas now it can be treated with more success. 

There was a common public fear of AIDS and a stigma attached to those who had it. The public thought only homosexuals had AIDS and it is easy to contract. However, time has shown that is not the case.

The movie is set in the late 1980s, when the AIDS virus caused panic throughout the country. This could make it seem outdated, being in today’s age where cancer seems to be more of a concern. However, the movie uses AIDS to comment on the underlying fear of homosexuals, especially in the corporate sector.

It is no shock there was homophobia in the office Beckett worked in. He used an example where one partner told an anti-gay joke, which Beckett heard. Beckett said he was relieved he never told anyone he worked with about his homosexuality. While in court, one of the firm’s partners shows his apparent dislike for homosexuals, when he answered the question ‘Are you gay?’ with ‘How dare you.’ This is the break in the case that Miller had been hoping for. His response showed his underlying prejudice for gays, which was the break in the case Beckett and Miller were waiting for.

The film is not just about homosexuality or AIDS, but really as discrimination as a whole. The whole reason Miller takes Beckett’s case is because he empathizes with him about his hardships, not because he is gay or not. Miller, a black male, may not know what Beckett’s life is like, but he does know what it is like to be discriminated against.

The movie is definitely one of Tom Hanks’s best performances. He grasps the role in ways not yet seen out of him; especially considering this was in 1993.  If you are in the mood for a serious drama start up Netflix and get this film rolling.

Stars: 3.5 out of 5.