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Vintage Hunk: Tom Hanks

By Mike McCrann

Tom Hanks is currently having a career revival with his critically acclaimed performances in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks, where he plays Walt Disney no less!

Hanks has been a major star for over thirty years. His "everyman" status, a sort of Jimmy Stewart for a new generation has carried him to the top. Like James Stewart, Tom Hanks was not a gorgeous hunk in the Tyrone Power or Errol Flynn category, but he was very cute when young, and has aged rather well despite gaining a bit of poundage over the years. Is Tom Hanks a great actor? No, but he is a good one. I have liked him enormously in many of his films. I don't think he deserved either of the Academy Awards given to him for playing a gay man in Philadelphia or the wildly successful Forest Gump. A famously straight actor playing a gay man dying of AIDS in the early 90s was almost enough to get a nomination. Hanks was good in Philadelphia, but the film was only so-so. However, at the time most gays were grateful for any positive cinematic role models. Forest Gump was a smash hit and I hated the film. Everything in it, including Hanks was nauseating. How a film this bad could win any awards is a great mystery, but remember The Sting once won Best Picture and Best Director.

Despite the above mentioned movies, Tom Hanks was truly wonderful in so many other less-lauded films. He was incredibly charming in Big, and who can forget the scene in the bathroom when he first realizes he has grown up, and then looks down the front of his underpants with his eyes bugged. Hanks was also great in Apollo 13 and the Daryl Hannah mermaid fantasy, Splash. Plus, even when he was young, Hanks could play older and gruffer in A League of Their Own with Madonna, and the spectacular Geena Davis.

The last few years had been disappointing for Tom Hanks, but alas, he is back with a vengeance. In Captain Phillips, he plays the tanker ship captain captured by Somali Pirates based on a true life adventure. It is a strange performance in that Hanks starts off a bit tentative, trying too hard with a Vermont accent (which mercifully seems to vanish) and trying to act like a non-movie star. But whatever faults the film has are redeemed by the final few minutes in which Hanks rises to dramatic heights never before attempted in his career. The NY Times review of the film commented: "Mr. Hanks is one of the few movie stars who, like  Gary Cooper once upon a Hollywood time, can convey a sense of old-fashioned American decency just by standing in the frame."

His latest film, Saving Mr. Banks, is based on Walt Disney trying to convince the author of Mary Poppins (Emma Thompson) to sell her book for a film. The reviews have been extravagantly good and the previews make it look like a must-see.

Tom Hanks is back as a top star, and I can't say why that makes me happy, but it does! He is just so damned likable. I don't think Tom Hanks (just like Jimmy Stewart) could ever really play an evil man. There is something in both of their gene pools that simply makes you smile when you see them, and that is what being a great movie star is all about. Plenty of actors out there in the past twenty years are better looking and probably more talented than Tom Hanks, like Sean Penn for one. But do we really look forward to a Sean Penn movie? Tom Hanks is now like our kindly Uncle (not grandfather yet - he is still sexy in his middle age) who just happens to be a major movie star. The same reasons we always liked Julia Roberts. She and Tom Hanks are just user-friendly, and I mean that as the highest of compliments. Welcome back Tom. We have missed you!

Watch below as Tom Hanks explains to Ellen about Walt Disney's notorious chain smoking, and how simply lighting up a cigarette on the big screen can land a film an 'R' rating.

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