for two reasons. The first of which addresses the undeniably emotionally overwrought and melodramatic style and content. At first, I was thrown off by the odd camera angles and the strange lead-in, and I was wondering why it was being filmed like a fable. But then I got it: it's an opera in prose, complete with love, death, villainy, redemption, the whole bit. And, as Rent and Angels and America concur, AIDS is a particularly operatic illness, much like TB was. It takes beautiful young people and rapidly and mercilessly ravages them seemingly with no rhyme or reason. Because that's its genre, I think it's allowed to be a little two-dimensional in its characterization and plot.
The other reason is that it's a movie about discrimination and hate as much as it is about disease. And, though we've made remarkable, almost miraculous, strides forward in how we treat AIDS, we still have big problems with how we treat gay people, as evidenced by the anti-gay slurs the movie features still being parroted by morons the country over nearly twenty years later. And sympathetic and human gay characters that transcend the "sassy gay friend" stereotype aren't exactly overrepresented in mainstream entertainment. I don't think this movie is perfect in its representation of homosexual relationships or what it means to be gay in America, but it didn't pander either.
And though Hanks was good, and I think the unblinking focus on his deteriorating body was much needed at the time, I think Denzel had the harder job, actually, in playing his character's homophobia as simulateously central to his self-conception as a man and remarkably ill-defined and clumsily articulated. He's drawn to Andy almost against his will, resists any emotional connection mightily, and only tenuously jettisons his discomfort at the very end. I'm not sure the movie knew what to do with the relationship between these two men, but I think the movie is posing the question in an honest way, and it's one that probably still needs some exploration. If we took out the AIDS, how would a friendship between these two men operate? Nat, can you think of a movie that seriously handles the development and maintenance of a friendship between a gay man and a straight man?
Also, as an aside, I will never get tired of delighting in early 90's technology.