Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Case For Philadelphia

The Good: Excellent acting, Good characters, Good plot, Good direction, Excellent themes.
The Bad: Predictable, Some pacing issues
The Basics: An all-around excellent cast with good direction and a progressive message float Philadelphia through its slow points and obvious nature.

After years of watching and enjoying The Practice, I decided it was time to sit down and watch Philadelphia, which, despite the hype surrounding it still, is just a courtroom drama film. And as far as courtroom dramas go, it's a very good one.

Philadelphia centers around Andrew Beckett, who is played by Tom Hanks, who is terminated from his job at a high priced law firm. Beckett suspects it is the result of him having AIDS and one of the senior partners recognizing that, a suspicion leapt to when an exceptionally important case file disappears only to reappear seconds before the trial is to begin. Beckett hires Joe Miller to represent him in a wrongful termination suit against the firm. What follows is a courtroom drama without any twists or turns or real surprises.

Part of that is the problem. While the film expertly sways from the courtroom action to the character struggles and epiphanies both plod along predictably. That's not to say they aren't interesting, but it is to say they are unsurprising. The moment Miller's prejudices are revealed, it becomes clear it's one of "those films," that is a film with a message. It's a laudable message, but it's still laid on very thick and it's predictable where the film is going.

Surprisingly, considering Hanks gets so much credit for the film (which he deserves), the story is focused on Joe Miller, who is played by Denzel Washington. Washington gives an excellent performance and deserved an award for his portrayal. While his character arc was predictable, Washington played Miller well, with subtlety and distinction. It was more than well written, the direction captured perfectly the expressions in Washington's face and eyes that are hallmarks of great acting.

Outside the obvious social importance of a film decrying the prejudices that exist between the white heterosexual male populace (or financial) majority and pretty much every other group on earth, Philadelphia does it well, mostly because it does it consistently and it has a very real feel to it. The movie exposes the questions that lie at the heart of the prejudice and articulates them openly. For that it ought to be commended.

The only drawback on the entertainment front is, surprisingly, in the courtroom. As a fan of The Practice it's very difficult to watch the inside of the courtroom being so stark, tensionless, and downright slow. The pacing of the epiphanies in Miller's life come with delightful precision and timing, but that same gentle ebb works less well for the dramatics of a courtroom.

Certainly a worthwhile film with an ending that's both satisfying and pyrrhic.

For other courtroom films, please check out my reviews of:
The Social Network
The Life Of Emile Zola
Flash Of Genius


For other film reviews, please visit my index page for a complete listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2001, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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