I’ve said before that I don’t care for Denzel Washington or
Tom Hanks. I’ve also said that the two remind me of each other, both exude that slight tinge of cockiness, they both have their two Oscars and both are widely and (wildly) loved. It’s strange, though, when they teamed up for Philadelphia in 1993 I actually like them together. I often think I don’t like Philadelphia, but I saw it again this past week and I realise that even though I have a distinct resentment of the case of the stolen Oscar that belonged to Anthony Hopkins (or at the very least, Liam Neeson) Philadelphia is a fine film – and Tom Hanks is excellent in it. It would probably seem a bit archaic now, the struggle of a man who was fired for having HIV/AIDS but for more than its implications of society then, and its potential historical worth Jonathan Demme's Philadelphia is significant, even on a purely cinematic level.
Something that I thought of while watching, that I think is often overlooked – is Mary Steenburgen. I’m a fan of Steenburgen, from her often forgotten work in Melvin & Howard (incidentally, the Oscar winning role which Jonthan Demme also directed) to her rewarding supporting turn in Joan of Arcadia. She’s such a naturally warm person I’m always impressed that she pulls off the steely lawyer-role in Philadelphia. Perhaps, it’s not quite searing but playing such a stock character I always consider her performance a notable part of the film. Philadelphia is filled with interesting supporting turns. From Antonio Banderas’ turn as Hanks’ lover – I’m always used to him as playing brash or at the very least suave – it’s nice to watch him being not the least bit assertive. Or Jason Robards and Bradley Whitford, both riddled with the usual stock villains – but still very much realistic portrayals, in their ways and acting legends like Joanne Woodward showing up just to stay in the background, but still make an impact.
Of course, the film belongs to Hanks and Washington – the former more than the latter, naturally. What strikes me about both men is how I’m most impressed with them when they shut up. True, both moments seem to be a little obvious, still...there’s that moment in the library where Washington's Miller watches Hanks’ Beckett dealing directly with his problem. Denzel Washington isn’t a subtle actor, but his starkness works well in the scene. You see the wheels turning in his head, but you’re supposed. For Hanks, it’s a quieter scene – it probably doesn’t even have that much significance narrative-wise. It’s just a scene of him standing on the street, the snow falling and his face is that of a man completely broken. I’m often unwilling to believe I’m watching anyone but
Tom Hanks when he acts, and it makes me think that the reason is because when he’s out of makeup Tom Hanks is too obviously Tom Hanks. I’m not an advocator for prosthetics enhancing performance, but it’s as if when I’m forced to forget Hanks’ physicality I’m more willing to believe in his performance. I don’t know...whatever it is, Philadelphia works. Deliberate? Yes. Manipulative? At times...but still, I’ll ignoring my issues with who deserved what Oscar (at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter) – it’s one worth seeing.
What do you think of Hanks? Of Washington? Philadelphia?