By Debra (UK)
At the time this film was originally made, AIDS was a very controversial topic to build a film around and there was still a lot of misunderstood half-truths and misconceptions being banded around as fact. Ron Nyswaner’s screenplay was quite rightly nominated for an Academy Award, but lost out to Jane Campion (The Piano). The fact that the film is based on a true story gives poignancy and means the film translates well onto the big screen.
Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Antonio Banderas showed great courage believing in the film and by each putting in equally courageous performances.
To take each in turn, Tom Hanks has a deserved reputation for giving generally good, fully rounded performances in whatever film he appears. Most actors (of whatever level) have their off-days and less than usual standard performances, but not Tom Hanks – try think of a film in which he has not delivered and I think you will struggle. However, for this role (and he did surprise me in this regard), Tom Hanks was clearly on top form. He creates the character of Andrew Beckett so he is believable and appealing to the audience, despite the repeated inference that he caught the virus in a less than “innocent” manner, and in the process some of the then popular myths surrounding AIDS are gradually eroded.
The biggest surprise of the film is the portrayal by Antonio Banderas of Andrew Beckett’s lover, Miguel. Without making Miguel unnecessarily camp or effeminate, yet to still appear not to be an unduly “masculine” man, Antonio Banderas strikes exactly the right balance to create a truly sympathetic personality to an audience which at the time the film was released would have been ready to view both Miguel and Andrew in a much less forgiving light. By the end of the film, I had real compassion for both characters and it is a testament to both actors that I believe this would have been true when the film was original released.
Denzel Washington has the job of highlighting, unravelling and dispelling the myths and misconceptions discussed above. In his portrayal of Joe Miller, Denzel Washington gradually reveals his feelings of revulsion at the misguided and bigoted intolerance of society for victims of the AIDS virus, at war with his natural sense of justice which shows itself when he takes on Andrew’s unfair dismissal case. As Joe Miller gradually begins to understand more about the illness, he begins to see more and more clearly the unjust, unfair the way Andrew has been treated by his employer.
By the end of the film, these three actors have the audience totally believing Andrew’s cause. The purpose of the acting process, as conveyed through film, TV or stage medium is to provide an escape for the audience. In order for the process to work, the first job of the actors is to get the audience on side by getting them to enter into a willing suspension of disbelief; that is, for the acted medium to work for the audience, the audience must enter into a willingness to believe whatever is presented before them. This is partially achieved because generally an audience attend a theatre, cinema or switch on a TV set with the anticipation that they already want to be entertained. However, this is only part of the story and for the process to be completed, the actors, the film, screenplay, sound score, costumes – all of it needs to work together to bolster that wish to be entertained and provide a medium that does exactly that – entertain.
Philadelphia works well because the supporting cast work very hard to do the work of supporting the main lead characters, the film flows well because of the excellence of the screenplay; all the necessary parts work so well together that the audience will find it easy to suspend their disbelief and believe in the story being presented.