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The dark side of Tom Hanks – The Ringer

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Tom Hanks has had enough of comparisons to Jimmy Stewart for over 30 years. “It’s Jimmy Stewart this, Jimmy Stewart this,” said Hanks Parade in 1987. “It’s as big a compliment as possible, but it’s not at all accurate.” However, he cannot have them arrested. “If I had done it in 1951, I would have wanted Jimmy Stewart to play the role,” Steven Spielberg told The Cox News Service in 1998 during a chat. Save Private Ryan. A year later, in a widely reproduced play for Knight Ridder, Elvis Mitchell asked, “Is Tom Hanks this Jimmy Stewart of this generation?” (Conclusion: yes.) Years later, while awarding an honor at the 2014 Kennedy Center in Hanks, President Obama also summoned Stewart, saying, “People said that Tom was the handyman of Hollywood ; that he is Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper of this generation. “

To be mentioned alongside Stewart is, of course, a noble comparison. It’s also easy to see why Hanks might feel a bit penalized by this. Stewart’s name has become a short cut for kindness and decency, for any ordinary American man. The comparison almost always refers to the Stewart of Smith travels to Washington and The corner shop. This generally does not affect Stewart’s later work, the haunted men he played after serving in the Air Force during World War II. In fear of heights, Anthony Mann Westerns, and elsewhere, Stewart came to specialize in men who had seen a little too much darkness and did not know if they could ever find their way back to the light. Not the kind of man, in other words, Hanks became famous while playing.

But like Jimmy Stewart, Hanks’ work playing darker characters has been overshadowed by his nicest man character in the play, who is only growing with the release of his latest film. In the remarkable Marielle Heller A nice day in the neighborhood, Hanks plays Fred Rogers, the children’s television show host who embodied the kindness of generations of children. Hanks doesn’t just play a good guy, he plays the The kindest guys. However, even if Hanks continues to return to a zone of decency of comfort, he has ventured outside several times, breaking with his nice character, sometimes by degrees, sometimes radically. However, these excursions have produced extremely mixed results.

In the second half of the 80s, Hanks had clearly begun to wonder if he could do more than play the complacent but sympathetic roles of traditional comedies. Splash made him a star and movies like Man with red shoe and Bachelor Party has proven to help raise weak material. But Hanks had higher ambitions. He made his dramatic debut (not counting the 1980 slasher film He knows that you are alone) in the little seen film of 1986 Whenever we say goodbye, the same year, he finds a comedy that pushes the limits of his familiar character via Nothing in common, in which he plays a feminizing, but charming advertising representative, forced to grow up because of his father’s illness (Jackie Gleason). Two years later, he appeared in two films that essentially served as a referendum on what the public expected from Tom Hanks: Large and Punchline.

Penny marshall’s Large stars Hanks playing a child trapped in the body of an adult in a performance that confirmed that his lineup extended beyond the types of characters he played until then. In Punchline, Hanks plays a character in another type of arrested development: Steven Gold, a washed-out medical student whose unsuccessful pursuit of standing celebrity puts him on a self-destructive path. Sally Field plays the role of Lilah Krytsick, an aspiring comic book colleague, and her first interaction with Steven quickly establishes her like a dick. When Lilah asks him if he is going to look at her, he replies: “I have to clean my aquarium.” He comes however, helping her in her act, developing feelings for her, then seeming to lose her head when she does not return these feelings, pushing him to recreate “Singin ‘in the Rain” by Gene Kelly dancing like an angry act of self-abasement on a busy New York street.

Hanks embarks on the scene and on the character, a hollowed-out wreck who could be more comfortable in a Scorsese film. It’s the movie around him that’s disappointing. Not only does it serve as a showcase for the worst stand-up trends of the 80s – come for gadgets, stay for ethnic jokes – he doesn’t seem to be able to decide who Steven is. This is the central problem when it comes to determining if Hanks can play really dark characters: is it impossible to accept him as a villain or to let his villain films drop him? Despite some praise for his Punchline work, the box office results clearly favored Hanks as a nice guy: Large exceeded Punchline about $ 95 million.

Hanks’ next attempt at playing a darker character, 1990’s Brian De Palma adaptation of Tom Wolfe The vanity bonfire, clearly falls into this latter category. The film makes crazy errors of judgment from start to finish, but by making Hanks the role of Sherman McCoy, the “master of the universe” on Wall Street, whose implication in a hit-and-run accident becomes a central point of class, political and racial tensions in New York … should not be one of them. Still, the movie tries to make Sherman, a thoughtless asshole on the page, a nice guy. Rather than making Hanks bend toward the material, it reshapes like a Tom Hanks film, never giving Hanks a chance to expand beyond his lovable 80s comedy character. Even when he talks about suicide and wave a shotgun to some guests, the scene looks more like an outing from The silver pit. Critics saved the film but mostly spared Hanks. In a typical review, The Chicago TribuneGene Siskel suggested “the movie was wrong”. (Looking like a nice guy has its advantages.)

As if chastised, Hanks stayed away from the bad guys for the rest of the 90s when he became one of the biggest stars in the world. Sure, A separate leagueJimmy Dugan made one of his players cry, but he calmed down and finally felt bad about it. The closest he came to play is a shady character is This thing you do!, his winning debut as a writer and director. As music director, Mr. White, he brought a group from Pennsylvania of the 1960s to stardom, but did little to ensure their longevity. When they fall apart, it loses all interest and moves away. He’s as nice as he should be as long as he needs to be, but not for a moment longer.

Over the decade, Hanks developed a specialty of playing ordinary men tested by extraordinary circumstances in films like cream philadelphia, Apollo 13, Save Private Ryan, and Shipwrecked. And although he played a man for whom the murder had become just another part of the business in the 2002 film by Sam Mendes Road to perdition, his police work from the Depression era plays like an extension of this race. Sullivan is not afraid to shed blood, of course, but is led to his life in crime by the circumstances of his education and does not start a tireless series of killings until after losing most of his family . At the end of the film, Michael son finds himself unable to judge his father. It is difficult not to share this feeling.

A few years later, Hanks tried to play badly while remaining funny. In Joel and Ethan Coen The Ladykillers he embodies an artist from the South dandy con who tries to defraud a widow (Irma P. Hall) – and will take extreme measures to get the job done. Hanks is fun, drawing the syllables from his meticulously articulated dialogue but, once again, the performance surpasses the film, which tends to compete with Intolerable cruelty in Coens’ weakest effort assessments. in the ambitious adaptation of Cloud Atlas, of the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, Hanks was more fortunate in playing some of the grotesque villains in the story on several levels, but, perhaps revealingly, his central role presents himself as a sort of handyman postapocalyptic, a decent guy trying to do the right thing in difficult circumstances.

One of Hanks’ best villains happens to be in one of his worst movies. James Ponsoldt, the timely but ridiculous 2017 adaptation of Dave Eggers The circle offers a hysterical twist on Internet privacy and the political implications of social media. Virtually nothing works except Hanks as Eamon Bailey, awesome CEO of the eponymous web company. A charismatic and aggressive visionary, Bailey’s Steve Jobs-like flippancy masks a desire to push boundaries and use people as guinea pigs. It rationalizes a dangerous world experience as working for the greater good, conventional ethics be damned. Addressing his lack of obscurity in a recent Taffy Brodesser-Akner profile for The New York TimesHanks admitted that he learned early on that he could use his “ability to seduce a room, seduce a group of people” as a means of asserting his power. With Eamon, he arms this ability. If Hanks wants to create a memorable villain, he will likely wear a winning smile and claim good intentions.

But that remains a big “if”. Smart actors understand their reach and extend beyond that reach at their own risk. As others have pointed out, for much of the 1980s, Hanks and Michael Keaton seemed to be following the same path. For much of the decade, there wasn’t a role Hanks played that Keaton couldn’t have played or vice versa. (Hanks’ son Colin even turned this into an annual birthday joke.) But on this point, 1988 turns out to be instructive again. Keaton was too worldly to play a little boy in the body of an adult, but Hanks would seem equally out of place to try the role of Keaton in Clean and sober like a man whose awakening to ask for help for his addiction to coke occurs when he wakes up next to a corpse. (Hanks played the alcoholic uncle Ned on Family ties, but somehow remained funny and likeable, even if the greedy vanilla extract in a desperate attempt to catch a buzz.) Keaton might suggest the kind of inner torment that could make a man disguise himself as a bat for fight crime. Hanks would look ridiculous to wear a cape. Some actors can summon inner demons. Others always have the impression of pretending.

But if Hanks never creates a memorable villain or even a character in the grip of a dark obsession, that’s good too. After talking about Stewart and Cooper, President Obama ended his summons at the Kennedy Center by saying, “But it’s only Tom Hanks. And that’s enough. It’s more than enough. ” A nice day in the neighborhood offers further proof of this, delving into the parodies and character of television to create a portrait of a man whose virtue and serenity came from innate qualities rather than constant reflection and effort. In an extraordinary scene, Hanks transmits a flash of anger and frustration when he is referred to a personal question, all without breaking his smile. Then he lets these feelings go and responds honestly and with compassion. It’s hard to think of another actor – thanks to a combination of skills and accumulated history – who could make this moment work, or the goodness of Rogers feel like a hard-won accomplishment. Maybe that means that one day a talented actor could find himself fighting a Hanks comparison because he can’t help embody what we love most about humanity. As the limitations, it is not so bad.

Keith Phipps is a writer and editor specializing in film and television. Previously: Uproxx, Melt, and The AV Club.

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