Following on from the pride season I have been doing this Christmas, one of our staff (Graham) was talking about this old classic. When I realised I had never got around to viewing it, even though it came out in the 90’s. Quickly deciding that had to change, I found a copy of it on Netflix.
Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, a young hungry lawyer at the top of his game. Who manages to find himself in one of the biggest law firms, working long hours, being promoted. Given the biggest case the company has to cover. Andrew is well loved in the company, respected, treated well.
Until he has to take time off work sick, and work from home. Andrew has AIDS, he has been hiding that and the fact he is gay from his employers. He should tell them, but he fears it will limit his career as it has another female who gained AIDS from a bad blood transfusion. Showing legions on her skin at work, being treated like a leper. Andrew is also showing legions, which at first he can pass off as bruises. Over time that isn’t as easy, nor are the other side effects. Leaving him in the hospital for tests often, leaving his partner (Miguel) panicking over his well being.
Andrew is experimenting to make up to try and cover the tell tale signs, leaving the work for the case on his desk as well as a hard copy. Both magically disappear and only reappear moments before court. Having been ‘accidentally’ filed in cold cases. Because of this Andrew is fired, although he knows it is because he has the sickness not his job performance. It’s a set up, because they saw the legions.
Unsure how much useable time he has left in his life, Andrew sets up trying to find someone to represent him against the company. No one will take the case, they have no interest in gays or gay rights. His last chance is Joe Miller, a black homophobic lawyer who straight out turns him down. The idea of a gay man near him makes him disgusted. He even goes to the doctor to make sure contact with the man will not harm him or his child.
Time moves on, Joe carries on with his cases and Andrew tries to find laws to protect him and represent himself. It is only when Joe overhears a conversation at the library where an assistant is homophobic towards Andrew he comes to his aid. Andrew tells him what he is looking at, and pushes the book he is reading towards the other. You can see just how hard it is for Joe to turn that book around at read it knowing that it has been touched by someone with Aids. After that you know that Joe is going to do everything he can to win that case, even with his own personal issues with gays.
A ground breaking film for its time, now a little dated and lacking the ‘wow factor’ of later films like Dallas Buyers Club. Somehow I don’t think that wow factor is a bad thing, I like that it focuses on the painful side of suffering with the virus instead of glamorising it. Without this, one of the very first films of its type, none of the others could have followed.
The acting from both Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington as Joe is perfect to say the least. The two really bounce off each other. Tom trying to teach Joe that gay isn’t what he thinks and Joe slowly starting to come around to that fact. A grudging friendship forming between them. It is easy to see why this film won five awards, four of them for Tom Hank’s acting including a golden globe. As well as a Glaad award for outstanding film making.
Sarah Beth James