Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tom Hanks Begins To Redeem Himself For Forrest Gump

Why don't people talk about the film Volunteers when they talk about Tom Hanks' career? He was wonderful as Lawrence Whatley Bourne III. The problem was that he was a loathsome prick and everybody wants Tom Hanks to be a good guy (just try to get anyone to talk about Punchline). Well, in Charlie Wilson's War, Tom Hanks plays a playboy Congressman who enjoys his whiskey, his girls and even a little nose candy from time to time. But fear not, this is Tom Hanks afterall and while he has some (make that a lot of) character flaws, he ends up being a real good guy in the end. But there's a bigger story here. And that story is that Charlie Wilson's War is a rather large step in a much needed healing process.

The second that Tom Hanks uttered the words "life is like a box of chocolates" you just knew that it was going to take a slew of good performances to undo the mess that was Forrest Gump. And truth to tell, those performances haven't come fast enough because I can still see Forrest running down that country road in my mind, wearing his checkered shirt and his stupid grin. And the goal here is to put up as many good performances as humanly possible to act as a brain cell killer to make me forget there ever was a Forrest Gump. Of course, there's Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can and Road To Perdition to help. But there has also been You've Got Mail, The Ladykillers, The Terminal, and The Polar Express and that just leads to "stupid is as stupid does." I still don't understand that dumbass quote and don't ever care to.

Tom Hanks isn't wonderful in Charlie Wilson's War the way that Philip Seymour Hoffman is as Gust Avrakotos, but he's at least got his swagger back. A Bachelor Party like swagger that seemed all but lost. The truth is, I don't know that Tom Hanks is the kind of actor that should take down back to back best actor Oscars. No wait, I know he's not the kind of actor. Ask yourself if Tom Hanks belongs in the same company as a Daniel Day Lewis or Jack Nicholson or Dustin Hoffman. He doesn't and that's okay because I like Tom Hanks best when he's having a good time. When he's got that smile that says he's in on the joke. He's got that in Charlie Wilson's War and it's good to see it again. Even if it means I still haven't forgotten Forrest Gump.


Burbanked said...

I'll only half-agree with you here, Piper, primarily because you don't include Cast Away or Philadelphia in your discussion. I think that Hanks is a solid, if not terribly versatile actor, but I find him fantastically watchable in a good 70% of the movies he appears in. He's one of those actors, I think, that delivers a strong sense of believability and humanity to his roles, and if anything he has the power to elevate narrative material that's just average simply by the aesthetic that he brings to it. Gump is a good example of this; it's a very, very mixed bag, and it's a bit too easy for an actor to excel in such roles and be rewarded for it. It's what William Goldman refers to when he points out that the Academy loves it when actors play "drunks and retards", along the same lines as Hoffman in Rain Man or *shudder* Penn in I Am Sam (which, admittedly, he didn't win for, but the nomination alone seems to prove Goldman's point).

In fact, I would put Hanks up against Nicholson in many ways, if only because Nicholson too often plays Nicholson, and although it can be fun to watch, I've grown a bit tired of never feeling as though I'm experiencing a real, flesh-and-blood character in Nicholson's performances. In both Cast Away and Philadelphia, however, I genuinuely feel and experience extraordinary things through the eyes of an ordinary person with dreams, conflicts, horrors, failures and triumphs. It's simply good drama, and when Hanks' material is up for the challenge, I think he's a pretty formidable acting presence.

But Daniel Day Lewis, I'd agree, is something else entirely.

All of that having been ponderously presented, I haven't seen Charlie Wilson's War, so I can't comment directly on it. From the marketing materials alone, it appears as though Hanks is doing his usual - a solid job in an okay movie - and that Hoffman probably outdoes him here. But I don't find Gump to be quite as objectionable as you do. I'll agree that it wasn't worth his second straight win, but I still find it to be a decent movie with a handful of terrific actor moments.

PIPER said...


This is no way is meant to be a bag on Hanks. Tom Hanks is an entertainer. I always find him enjoyable and I didn't include Philadelphia because it was made before Forrest Gump. I found him excellent in that. Castaway was a good movie, but I put it with the "drunks and retards" comment where I don't know of anyone that could have put up a bad performance there. It was pretty much no fail in my eyes.

And you're right about Nicholson and damn, I got busted because that was lazy of me to mention him.

And don't get me wrong. Charlie Wilson's War is good. It's fast and furious the way Sorkin writes and that might be its downfall. But it's entertaining to be sure. I don't know that Mike Nichols can deliver a bad movie.

brian said...


You were right in your initial assessment of Tom Hanks not being in the same league as Jack Nicholson.

Nicholson won Oscars in the 70s, 80s and 90s, the only actor to do so. He has also given uforgettable performances in Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Last Detail, Chinatown, Reds, About Schmidt, amongst others.

I think Hanks is extremely watchable but he's not in Nicholson's league.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm ... what a peculiar argument you're making here.

Frankly, I thought Hanks' performance in GUMP was even more special once I began to think about the mechanics of making this performance work.

A smart actor playing dumb is incredibly risky and difficult, especially when that character is a little off the wall or odd. It is much more difficult than you are acknowledging.

This post and Burbanked's response make me want to write up something about it.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you here Piper. I think Hanks did an excellent job with the Gump character. As I said over on my site.

"He made him something special. He gave him just enough qualities that your normal everyday person could relate to and to that he added the lovable simple mindedness of a disillusioned retard."

Also you failed to mention Apollo 13, The Green Mile and That Thing You Do. He had pretty good performances in those. I would also throw in the Toy Story movies. He made Woody seem like a real live character.

PIPER said...


What is your site?

I didn't fail to mention Apollo 13, The Green Mile or That Thing You Do, I just didn't feel those movies represented his best work. And yes, Tom Hanks has a quirky voice that worked for Woody, but I don't know that he brought life to him.

Anyway, please don't take my comments out of context. Tom Hanks is a wonderful actor. And while he may have made Forrest Gump a little something more than he would have been with another actor, it's still a performance I would rather forget. But that's me and as you said up front, we disagree.

PIPER said...

Sorry Eric, I know which site. My bad.

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