22 September 2004 | film-critic
This is not a political issue. This is a health issue. This is not a gay issue. This is a human issue.
A real-life story about the discovery and destructive nature of AIDS, And the Band Played On is a gripping drama that not only takes you to the front line and behind the scenes of the HIV virus. To the bath houses in San Francisco to the research labs at the Center for Disease Control, there is no area that is not shown in this film. An all-star cast also creates the ambiance to this film. Powerful actors giving the performances of a lifetime. Richard Gere, Angelica Houston, Ian McKellan, Steve Martin, Alan Alda, Phil Collins, and even Matthew Modine are just a few of the actors who deserved Academy Awards for their work. While most of their parts were small, they were not unforgettable segments. Each cameo actor had a crucial role in leading us to the next segment and life of the HIV virus.
We are first introduced to Modine when he is trying to help a tribe with the destructible Ebola virus. Then, just as quickly, we are in mainstream San Francisco. The booming gay community and the political figureheads that were pushing for rights. It is the beginning of 1980, the Democrats are pushing for a more liberal stance, while Regan is being sworn into the White House for his first term. The world is happy, yet timid. The gay community is growing, and discovering that a dark fear is lurking behind them. While the United States is beating a dead horse about closing bath houses and stopping the gay community, the French are looking at it outside of a sexual disease. Possibly a blood disease. While they research their ideas, America begins to see the full effect of AIDS. These scientists are predicting that in the next several years the fatality rate will be 100% if you contract AIDS. Ronald Regan has just had his second term and has still not mentioned AIDS in public. While the French work day and night to stop their public from dying, we begin shunning the gay community. Creating a phobia due to lack of education. We even see a well respected doctor steal the discovery from the French just so that he can credit the monetary value of this disease. While the ending to this film is very sappy, it still was powerful enough to not only be enjoyable, but also educational. A film that if you have not seen yet, you should...and if you have seen it, see it again.
This powerful two and a half hour epic was the most entertaining informative film I have seen in ages. I rented it not knowing anything about it. I first picked it up for the actors to see what they could do in such small roles. Little did I know I was about to see everyone in the performances of their lifetime. Richard Gere proved once and again why he is an actor. It befuddles me why Modine has stopped working, because after seeing him in this film I would have liked to see him move further in the Hollywood community.
It is not everyday that you find a gem as this film. If I was a superintendent of schools and I just saw this film, I would push with every ounce of strength to get this film into my schools. I learned more about AIDS than I ever had in my education career. It not only brought out a text book style of education, but it also brought a very humanistic approach to the disease. It also brought out a very dark political side that perhaps the general public is not as familiar with. Not only that, but it also brought out the dark side of human nature. In times of plagues, we rely to heavily on science to be our savior. While it will be the backbone to our cause, we do need to have a feeling for those that already have the disease. We, as a nation, need to look past social standings, sexual preference, and color of our skin to realize that we are all humans. If this is a "human" disease, then we need to research every venue, not just the most obvious ones. If this film doesn't scare you, I don't think any horror film will.
Like all great films, it did have some horrible sides to it. McKellan's story was too cliché. The story of the homosexual politician who looses his lover because he is more involved with politics than his social life, who eventually reunite when it is discovered that McKellan has AIDS. Modine's flashbacks were unnecessary. I felt that we did not need to be reminded why he believed in human nature, and I don't think that we needed to be reminded by seeing a scene where he throws bodies into a fire. Something more substantial would have been nice. Finally, the ending was too much for me. I don't think it needed to have an Elton John (prominent homosexual figure in entertainment) singing one of his songs with flashing pictures of famous people, straight and gay, that we have lost to AIDS. Perhaps a more poignant picture would have been less famous people (every day Joes) who have died from the disease.
Overall, the good well out weigh the bad points that I just mentioned. I guarantee that you will be surprised, educated, and emotionally enthralled by this film.
Grade: **** out of *****