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* PHILADELPHIA - A homosexual attorney is falsely accused of incompetence and fired from his law firm after his employers learn he has AIDS. He then takes the firm to court with a countercharge of job discrimination based on groundless fear and bigotry. It has been widely speculated that director Jonathan Demme made this drama to show his solidarity with the gay community after protesters charged his previous film, ``The Silence of the Lambs,'' with reinforcing homophobic stereotypes. Whatever the reasoning behind his new picture, Demme has succeeded in bringing issues of gay-related civil rights, legal justice, and plain human compassion into the big-studio production arena for the first time. The movie is often sentimental, and sometimes conventional to the point of dullness, especially when it falls into tried-and-true formulas at the end. Tom Hanks is virtuosic as the hero, though, and Denzel Washington is even more impressive as the lawyer who reluctantly agrees to represent him, quietly losing much of his own bigotry in the process. Demme's filmmaking makes up in sincerity what it lacks in originality, and he gets a remarkable amount of emotional mileage from simple close-ups of expressive faces. Ron Nyswaner wrote the screenplay, which often dwells on details of illness and medical treatment. Tak Fujimoto was the expert cinematographer. (Rated PG-13)

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