What I’ve Been Watching: DVD – Philadelphia & A Prophet

MPW-33995.jpegPhiladelphia

It was 1993, the world was coming to terms with the emerging AIDS epidemic, a disease many found it hard to separate from homosexuality.

Inspired by a court case (which ironically it took a court case to prove it was inspired by), Philadelphia tells the story of Andrew Beckett(Tom Hanks) who has been dismissed from his job after his employers, a law firm, figure out he’s got AIDS.

He tries to get legal representation, and the only one who will take his case is Joe Miller(Denzel Washington), a married man with more than a hint of homophobia towards Beckett.

What follows is the court case which takes up much of the movie, with witnesses and cross-examinations providing the twists and turns one expects from court room drama.

The biggest compliment I can pay to Philadelphia is that I hope it becomes redundant. Unlike Brokeback Mountain, this comes across a movie which is written primarily to change minds. As such, there are some dramatic misfires, including a climax to the case that makes no use of the apparent tension the film has been building to.

As far as the issues of homosexuality and AIDS go, they are well handled. Tom Hanks earning his first oscar for the brave, determined and ambitious Bennett. His portrayal doing a fairly flawless job of addressing the stigma attached to both AIDS and homosexuality at the time.

I can see how Philadelphia was an important film at the time, forcing people to confront the issues at its heart and actually consider the suffering of people with AIDS: both physically and socially. Seventeen years on, it feels like as society’s attitude to the disease has largely moved on, so has the impact of the film. As such, as one looks closer at underlying narrative, one sees it lacks the strength to make this a truly great film.

a-prophet-poster2.jpgA Prophet

Knowing Hollywood, A Prophet, is going to be remade pretty soon. It tells the fall and rise of Malik El Djebena, a 19 year-old whose been convicted for six years for apparently assaulting a police officer.

An Arab, with no friends on the inside, he struggles to fit in. That is, until the prison’s main gang makes him an offer he literally can’t refuse: kill a snitch, or be killed himself.

The movie’s been compared to The Godfather, and for obvious reasons. Not only is Malik’s character arc remarkably similar to Michael’s in Coppola’s film, the pacing, scope and length of the movie all have a lot in common with one of the most critically acclaimed movies of all time.

The movie’s ambition is its biggest strength. It’s difficult to get a handle on, since you often think it’s going one direction but quickly changes pace to another. Every ten minutes something really significant seems to happen, forcing you to rethink what you thought you knew about who the protagonist was becoming at that point.

Stylistically, it effortlessly switches between gritty realism and some very imaginative dream sequences involving Malik’s late brother.

For me this was a film that made everything it did look easy. A film that makes you wonder “why can’t everyone make stories like this?”. It’s not that there’s anything especially new about the story or characters, but rather that like a well made watch, all its cogs worked together perfectly to produce something spectacular.

The Prophet is a violent, formidable, epic film. It works by concentrating on a smart, conflicted but ambitious character who’s doing his best to make the most of the circumstances he’s found himself in. Most films that get compared to The Godfather, are completely overshadowed by it, The Prophet may not be better, but it at least manages to be in the same league.

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