Thursday 23 April 2009

Tom Hanks.

I love Tom Hanks. Not in a gay way. But I love him in the same way I love Jack Lemmon and Jimmy Stewart. Hanks was probably the first person I actively begun to follow when I realized I was going to be a film lover rather than an ordinary functioning human. I loved the Ephron Rom-Coms, I loved the Oscar-winning stuff - and I loved all the old stuff like Punchline and The Burbs. Back then, Hanks was really Hanks. In fact, he was probably at his most Jack Lemmon back then.
My concern is that he just doesn't take risks anymore. He just seems to take the pay-cheque. I would love to see him in a low-budget comedy, something that tries to be a bit different; but it's just not something that Hanks ever does. The strange thing is that the Tom Hanks everyman character doesn't seem to excite so much anymore. A part of me would be more drawn to see a Will Smith blockbuster than the latest Hanks flick.

I see his career in three stages. The first was the 'earlier, funnier ones'. From Splash in 1984 through to A League Of Their Own in 1992. This was a great period for Tom Hanks; whether the films were brilliant fun like Turner And Hooch or pathetic like The Man With One Red Shoe, one thing stayed constant -- Hanks was just so compelling on screen. Whether he was spying on weird neighbours, going on stake-outs with a dog or dating a mermaid; you just went along with it. He was just so appealing to watch, so funny, and so interesting.

The second stage is where he went from being a great comedy actor to being an all-time great, a legend in his own right. From Sleepless In Seattle through to Road To Perdition. Career-wise, he did very little wrong. It could be down to his 'crack team of showbiz experts' as he often jokes. Or it could just be down to the fact that he was a dedicated, passionate, and risk-taking actor. It's hard to see now but to play a homosexual with aids, immediately followed by playing a simple, somewhat retarded Alabamian was a risk. Two risks that rewarded us with breathtaking and ground-breaking performances, and rewarded him with two back-to-back Oscars and a license to pretty much have any role he wanted for the rest of his career. And this is a license that, for many years, he used very well.

In Sleepless In Seattle and You've Got Mail he was perfect. You can write them off as fluffy rom-coms, but I really like the films. Hanks manages a state of complete naturalness. When you watch him talk, think and move; he is not an actor, he is not performing, he just is. In You've Got Mail you can see he's having the time of his life; bringing himself into the role in a way that parallels Jimmy Stewart in The Shop Around The Corner, from which You've Got Mail was adapted.

Apollo 13, Saving Private Ryan, The Green Mile and Cast Away are, for me, completely perfect films. In these films Tom had perfected the art of acting. The art of becoming a role. Of course, in these films he got to work with masters of modern cinema - Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, Frank Darabont and Robert Zemeckis -- so he was in good hands. With great writing and directing backing him he excelled. I could happily watch these four films on repeat for the rest of my life. His journey as a character in these films are like the journeys of the everyman getting through life. These are roles that define who Tom Hanks is and what he means to us. They are roles that proved beyond doubt that he is the greatest actor of our generation and quite possibly any generation.

And then came stage three. From Catch Me If You Can through to Angels and Demons. You begin to see the pattern of him falling into the same films again and again. Rather than playing a complex and flawed character like Capt. Miller in Saving Private Ryan he played rather uninspired, predictable characters in his two next Spielberg films Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal. Both were watchable, in fact Catch is possibly quite good; but they're safe. By the numbers box-office fare that will happily yield a pay-cheque and a new offer after release. The same complaint could be made about Spielberg as it could Hanks but I'll save that for another time.

The Da Vinci Code is the icing on the cake. Rather than playing a heartbreaking Andrew Beckett or the conflicted Paul Edgecombe, he took on a role in the biggest franchise at the time. The Da Vinci book was hyped beyond control and the movie was guaranteed to rake in the dollars. Where Ron Howard's Apollo 13 was inspired and moving, Da Vinci is just dull, long and - well, you've all seen it, just bland. Of course, it's highly likely that Tom thought the film would be much better than it was; but then here he is again in the sequel Angels & Demons. For the first time in my life; I have absolutely no interest in seeing a Tom Hanks film.

When you rack up his credits in the last seven years compared to those in the decade prior to that, it's sad to see how poor it is. It's not that he misfires; it's just that he is content playing with the big-timers in films that rarely have anything to say and the comedies like The Ladykillers and The Terminal lack the freshness of pretty much every comedy he did prior to the turn of the millennium.

I worry. Not for Tom the working actor, but for Tom the artist. Tom the man who meant so much to us. The man who is now churning out the average on a consistent basis. Whether this is bad choices and safety or just pure bad luck, I don't know. I mean, I'd have thought having him acting out the words of Aaron Sorkin in Charlie Wilson's War would produce one of the greatest films of our time but it wasn't to be the case.

Whatever happens, I feel that we are now approaching chapter four. His next few decisions will determine the rest of his career. I just hope he takes some risks.

Care to share?


  1. I was really disappointed with Charlie Wilson's War.

  2. "They are roles that proved beyond doubt that he is the greatest actor of our generation and quite possibly any generation."

    I doubt that.