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Hidden Hanks (A Bullz-Eye Movie Feature)

May 15, 2009


Tom Hanks has an image problem. It’s that he’s – you know – polite, decent, pleasant. No matter how darkly interestingly some of his roles have been since relatively early in his career, we still think of the hilariously likable guy and gifted comic actor who turns up on award shows and “SNL,” not the sometimes tortured, more complex characters he insists on occasionally playing – and playing increasingly well.

Jimmy Stewart, the star to whom Tom Hanks will forever be compared, had a similar deepening and darkening of his persona during his middle years, but his experiences in the World War II Army Air Corps provided the kind of simplistic explanation we writers like to hang onto. So, how do we account for the power of his shattering performance in “Saving Private Ryan” since, as far as we know, the closest Tom Hanks has been to the insanity of random violence is being in the same room with Mel Gibson?

Could if be that acting is a craft – the kind you get better at with practice? Could it be that we all have a certain amount of darkness and fear in our lives and that good actors are just extremely skilled at figuring out how to access that darkness? Looking through this assortment of lesser-known performances from Hollywood’s best-liked, double Oscar-winner, multi-hyphenate actor-producer-director-writer and all-around power player, one can see real development and, more intriguingly, proof that you don’t need to be half-insane to be a good actor.

Read my look at ten less well known Hanks opuses at


And, with thanks to Hanks-fan extraordinaire RJR (who also consulted with me on which films to watch).

  1. RJR permalink

    One can always quibble with your list, but I certainly appreciate your willingness to find merit in Hanks’ talent even when the material doesn’t deserve it. Glad to see “Everytime We Say Goodbye” on it. Thanks for the shout out!

  2. I’m the first to admit the actual lists can seem slightly arbitrary, especially since what’s obscure to one person is yesterday’s news to another. (There’s plenty of people around to whom, say, “The Big Lebowski” is unknown, while to others it’s an acknowledged classic.) The list (not the writing of it) is also something of a collaboration between me and Bullz-Eye. In fact, one of the films I felt was one of the best examples was nixed because my editor on it hates the film and really hates Hanks in it. (I won’t say its name, but Hanks was nearly nominated for a Razzie for it, so I’m sure lots of people agree with him.) Also, Hanks is especially difficult as he’s done very little work in indies or smaller films
    I’m doing a similar feature on Denzel Washington next month, and I think that will be a bit richer, however. He’s made a lot more films that aren’t well known, including indies, but has also shown pretty great taste and, from his first movie on, has been amazingly consistent. There’s at least one very good film I’ll be writing about that I’ll be surprised if even any of my FtY readers has seen. (I’d never heard of it before doing this.)

  3. Nice piece. Glad to see mentions for VOLUNTEERS (a film I’ve always kind of liked) and NOTHING IN COMMON. THE TERMINAL does nothing for me– in fact, I think it’s probably Spielberg’s dullest film– but I really like THAT THING YOU DO!, proof that Hanks needs to play more shady businessmen in future films.

  4. Thanks Brian (and RJR…forgot in the prior post).

    It is a bit dull in the middle — it’s both too long and also, I thought, missing important scenes (both too long and too short?), but overall I’m really glad I got to see “The Terminal.” But then I’m a sucker for the Chaplinesque thing (though not Jacques Tati).

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