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Tom Hanks-Mr Common Man

September 1, 2007

Tom Hanks is not a show stealer like Robert De Niro or Al Pacino, nor can one imagine him doing a Travis Bickle or Tony Montana. He is not a dead drop handsome guy, who can make the girls go weak in their knees, like Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Nor is he a top action hero like Sylvester Stallone or Arnie. But yet that’s where Tom’s appeal lies, as the guy next door, he is some one every one of us can relate to. Along with Spencer Tracy he remains only the second actor to win 2 consecutive Oscars for Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. And when it comes to the range of movies, he has played a wide variety of roles, from an AIDS victim( Philadelphia) to a war weary Captain( Saving Private Ryan) to a gangster( The Road to Perdition) to a FED agent( Catch Me If You Can) to a refugee on an island( Cast Away), and not one role is similar to another.
One thread that runs through Tom’s roles is though, of the wrong guy in the wrong place. In Big he was a kid in a man’s body, in the Terminal he was a political refugee stuck in an airport terminal, in Cast Away he was the modern day version of Robinson Crusoe, in A League of Their Own, he was a male coach of an All women’s baseball team. And the other thread is that of an average Joe, caught in a conflict beyond his control. In Saving Private Ryan, he was not the average war hero, charging up the hill, he was more a war weary veteran, who just wanted to finish the mission and go home. In the Road to Perdition, he was a gangster wanting to get away from the Mafia, after the death of his wife and son. There is of course nothing average about Tom’s career, though, it is just brilliant studded with achievements, if you can ignore duds like Bonfire of the Vanities and Da Vinci Code.
Like Pacino, De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Tom is out and out a method actor. And that’s why we don’t see Tom Hanks, we see the character. The best example for me being Cast Away, half way into the movie, especially the scene where he is scraggly, bearded, it was tough for me to recognize that this was Hanks. The only way I knew it was him, was because of the title credits, and the beginning of the movie. Another aspect of Tom Hanks, is his often understated subtle acting. He deliberately underplays his role, yet still manages to create an impact. Take Saving Private Ryan, his is not a typical action role, yet the way he manages his band of men, the way he gets them going without any hyperbole, is just brilliant, and when he dies at the end of the movie, its not only Ryan, but every one in the audience really feels sorry for him. For me more than Forrest Gump, it was Cast Away, that really showed what acting is about. To engage the audience attention for a good 1 hour with no other characters except himself and a volleyball is just awesome.
Tom Hanks started off with a rom com, Splash in 1984, as an guy who falls in love with a mermaid, but the credit mostly went to John Candy, playing his wise cracking brother. Hanks had nothing much to do except smooching Daryl Hannah, playing the mermaid, while Candy walked away with all the best lines. Followed a couple of forgettable movies, before he hit pay dirt with Big in 1988. One of the best comedies of all time, Tom Hanks plays a 13 year old guy trapped in the body of an adult. With an effortless charming performance, Tom is just brilliant showing what comic timing is all about. Watch out the scene where he impresses the toy store owner, with his antics, and checking out the products, sheer comic brilliance, without going over the top.There was a dull phase with Joe Versus the Volcano(1990) and Bonfire of the Vanities(1990) proving to be critical and commercial duds.

Tom Hanks came back again in 1992 with A League of Their Own as Jimmy Dugan, an ex hard drinking baseball coach, who coaches an all woman’s baseball team starring Madonna, Geena Davis among others. And that was to start a golden phase in Tom’s career as he came up with one brilliant performance after another.
1993 saw Tom rising further up with Sleepless in Seattle and Philadelphia. Two totally contrasting movies. Sleepless was a typical rom com opposite Meg Ryan, where Tom plays a widower, who falls in love with Meg Ryan over a radio show. And then in Philadelphia, as an AIDS character, who is fired by his company, Tom Hanks was positively outstanding. The way Hanks brings out the subtle variations in the character, the way he makes it look so realistic. Playing a gay character suffering from AIDS, needs courage and conviction, and Hanks makes you emphathize with his plight. The movie had another outstanding performance from Denzel Washington too as Hanks lawyer. He thoroughly deserved the Oscar for it.
Well in 1994, Forrest Gump followed and what can I say about this classic. Tom Hanks did not act in this movie, he lived the character of Gump. You don’t see Tom Hanks, you see Forrest Gump. To win two back to back Oscars for playing a gay AIDS victim and a person with low IQ is no mean achievement, and that is why I rate Hanks as one of the best actors. And Hanks followed up with another top class performance in Apollo 13, as astronaut Jim Lowell. Based on the true story of the Apollo 13 mission which failed, this was a riveting drama, and apart from Hanks the movie had some excellent performances from it’s supporting cast of Ed Harris, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton and Gary Sinise.
In 1998, Hanks would come up with another master act in Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg’s harrowing recreation of the Normandy invasion. As Capt John Miller, who leads a team into war torn France to rescue an American private, Hanks was positively brilliant. He makes us emphathize with his role of a Capt, who is battle weary, and just wants to complete the mission and go home. Watch him in the climax, where mortally wounded, he points a gun at the tank, he just moves you to tears, and makes you stand up and salute him. Sadly he missed out a well deserved Best Actor, which would have been his 3rd one.
In the same year he again appeared in another rom com opposite his Sleepless co star Meg Ryan, in You Got Mail.In 1999, he again came in The Green Mile, an adaptation of a Stephen King novel. As a prison warden, who faces supernatural experiences with a prisoner on death row, Hanks again was excellent in this dark, disturbing movie.
In this decade so far apart from Cast Away, the only other movie which I really liked was The Road to Perdition, where he plays a gangster wanting to wean his son away from the Mob, after his wife and elder son are killed. And while he was excellent in The Terminal, the movie itself was not too great for me. So here is forgiving Tom Hanks, Da Vinci Code, and hoping that we see Mr. Forrest Gump back in full form.
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