Thursday, August 18, 2011

Does Tom Hanks Still Act?

Just look at him. So gleeful, friendly, and full of sincerity. He looks like the kind of guy you'd trust to watch your kids while you and that certain special someone go for a lovely stroll along the river bank under the moonlight, before a candle lit dinner serenaded by the finest traveling trio of musicians you could find on a tight budget - it's tough economic times, not my fault the three white middle school aspiring rap group YoDawgies was all that was available. Right, back on topic.

Mr. Hanks, Mr. Tom Hanks, he could sell a movie to 3 million people with just a subtle wink and a nod. It's a charm he possesses. A rare charm I'll admit, but a charm never the less. That certain core element of likability that allows him to weave in and out of all the various junk and controversial films that Hollywood shuffles his way and come out pristine every time. Of course it takes more than just that charismatic gravitational pull to escape Hollywood unscathed throughout the years - it takes a consistent delivery of quality. Well, either that or a good collection of stories like this making their way through the online media channels.

I'll openly admit, Hanks is one of my favorite performers to watch... well, perform. Yet as of lately I've found myself really struggling on one key concept: Does Tom Hanks really act - or indeed 'perform' - anymore or does he just play a minor variation of his general caricature. I'm not saying if he is, it's a bad or horrid thing, after all many of the most popular actors of all time never did much more than play minuscule alterations of their widely accepted public persona. But for someone as talented as Hanks is when he's on his A-Game, I must admit I find it a bit concerning.

Now at this point some of you might be quick to point out the films Hanks has recently done, but I'm just not seeing it. Even Charlie Wilson's War, despite Hanks being supreme Hanksian, isn't the most complex of film roles. Robert Langdon for the Da Vinci Code/Angels and Demons series is mostly just mild jogging and the occasional narrative. Polar Express, eh I could see an argument there but CGI is still on the outset of being accepted as a passable acting medium (sorry Andy Serkis, you know I got nothing but love for what you do). The Terminal... well maybe Tom Hanks + Funny Accent = acting but that was back in 2004 and skittish at best. The Ladykillers, well Hanks was definitely acting in that but I'm not sure a film as demonstrably divisive as that film has been really works in his favor.

So with these films I suppose one could say Tom Hanks is still 'acting,' he's just picking rubbish films to show it off in. But you only really need to go a couple of more years back to find a solid example of Hanks in form - Road to Perdition. Like the film or not, that's Tom Hanks acting. Cast Away, Green Mile, Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, heck I'll even throw A League of Their Own in there for good measure. While they do so to varying degrees, all these films highlight what Hanks can do when tackling roles that require him to step a bit outside of that 'Big' persona he's managed to carry in the public eye. I'm not knocking Big either, it's still a fan, and personal favorite among the Hanks collective.

Yet, the question remains. I don't want to wholly undermine what Hanks does these days. After all, he's still someone whose work would call upon me to pounce and watch in a heartbeat. But I do fear he's going down a very redundant route, a route I fear will inevitably lead to him slowly fading from pictures entirely - a far too common occurrence for iconic Male actors once they escape the comfort of challenging material and creep towards their mid-50s and beyond. Admittedly at a much lower rate than their female counterparts, but all the same.

8 better thoughts:

Dan said...

Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay Tom Hanks is the fact he is so natural. I think in the 1980s and to a certain extent The Terminal and the work he has done with Pixar, you can see Tom "acting" the outlandish, comedic role. But elsewhere, there's just a naturalism about his work that doesn't feel like acting.

Some his finest performances have been doing just that - Big, Philadelphia, Apollo 13.

Yes, he could phone in a performance if he wanted to but I honestly believe he is just a great actor who acts through his natural instincts.

Maria Sofia Teixeira said...

I've been wondering the same thing, and the weirdest thing is that he has been around, but we don't really notice it, or care, because the work is.. rather weak. Not because of his part, but the films he's in, like the ones you mentioned. It's a shame because he is indeed one the finest actors out there, so natural like Dan said. I still hope that he will "come back". I haven't seen Larry Crowne yet, I know not many were impressed... but we'll see what's next.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

But did he ever *act*? He's always been an actor that floats by on his natural cadence in that his roles always seemed like extensions of himself. Not that that's a bad thing, but that's how it is for me.

Yojimbo_5 said...

I think the point of departure came right before Road to Perdition when Hanks declared "I'm tired of playing 'pussies.'" What's nice about Hanks is he started out in "Bosom Buddies" as "Jim Carrey-lite" and settled into a career of solid work where he DIDN'T need to maintain the antic-ness that Carrey is still prone to. And that is testimony to what a fine actor he is. He made the transition and no one even noticed.

Dylan said...

I'm with Andrew. There are just certain types of actors...Hanks is in one type, and Daniel Day-Lewis is in another altogether. Both have strengths and (yes) weaknesses, but you'd be hard-pressed to say that they do the same thing by reducing it all to one little word (acting).

There's also something to the fact that Hanks is in a class with Cruise and Smith - they're too well-known, too out there. We're so familiar with their public personas, or at worst, with their styles, that after 25-30 years, we start to see the same things in their performances, even if some of those might be our minds filling in the gaps. In other words, it's a lot easier for an actor to surprise us and come off as "acting" when we only see them once every three years instead of twice a year (or more).

Castor said...

I think he is such a huge movie star now it has become nearly impossible to differentiate whether we are watching him "act" or him just being a minor variation of Tom Hanks.

Anonymous said...

I have the same feeling about Jack Nicholson.

Obviously there are some roles (like Hanks' Forrest, Jack's Penguin) that make them characters rather than them being themselves but calling it something different.

Brian said...

Nice thoughts. I'm with Castor. I think he's such a well known guy at this point that it is tough to not be seen as simply Tom Hanks.

I think he's also in a difficult spot wherein so many people will see anything he's in no matter what and you don't want to mess that up. Very similar to Will Smith in that light.

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