MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

The Decline of Tom Hanks

What’s happened to the Tom Hanks I once loved? Lately he seems too complacent as an actor to be interesting, too willing to ride on his considerable charm and nice-guy persona rather than challenging himself, coasting along in roles that either aren’t right for him or to which he just doesn’t feel authentically committed. His return to the role of Robert Langdon in Angels and Demons exemplifies this problem with who Hanks has become as an actor.

I spent a great deal of my childhood enjoying Hanks’ earlier work in films like Splash, Dragnet,Big, Bachelor Party, and especially the underrated Joe Versus the Volcano, then followed the actor’s career as he transitioned to bigger, more “serious” roles in films like A League of Their Own, Sleepless in Seattle, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Apollo 13. The great thing about Hanks is that he was so unlike any other movie star, making it difficult to compare him to anybody; I suppose Henry Fonda might be a decent enough comparison, but Hanks was infinitely more at ease with light comedy than Fonda. But that’s why we all liked and rooted for Hanks; he was an original, someone with boyishly goofy good looks who was adept at being the center of films, his palpable energy never allowing one to be stolen from him.

And then we have The Da Vinci Code and now, Angels and Demons, in which Hanks plays one of the most boring characters in the history of books and film. Langdon’s a passive character, not an active one; he’s always reluctantly dragged into these outrageous scenarios, and the role seems to require that Hanks spend much of his time perfecting bemused looks and intense stares while jogging around Europe trying to decipher symbols to save the day. Hanks’ willingness to take on a role as banal as that of Robert Landgon at this point in his career — not once, but twice! — speaks to me of a profound lack of willingness in Hanks to continue to grow as an actor, or even to keep his game up to the level that got him the clout he has to begin with. That’s the most upsetting thing about seeing his dead eyes on screen inAngels and Demons: the lack of passion and vigor. He seems bored with the role and the film, and so was I.

The major turning point in Hanks’ career might have been Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition. In the much better film The Godfather, Al Pacino embodies the malevolence inherent in Michael Corleone, lending a weight and believability to the character that is completely lacking in Hanks’ portrayal of Michael Sullivan in Road to Perdition. It’s impossible to say whether Hanks himself was unwilling to fully embrace the darkness of Sullivan’s hit-man personality, or if he was just terribly miscast, being too innately likable to convey the darkness of soul necessary for such a role. In either case, he’s just never believable as a hit man who has no remorse for what he does for a living.

Road to Perdition came on the heels of Cast Away, which in my opinion is the finest performance he’s given. In Cast Away, Hanks is the epitome of the pampered American who has to find who he really is without the material comforts he’s used to relying on. In a way, Hanks’ performance in this film is a perfect analogy for what I wish he would get back to as an actor: strip away all the bullshit and start from scratch, find out who he is as an actor without the aura of “Tom Hanks, movie star” clouding his judgment every time he looks at a script. I want him to reach for what will make him satisfied and content as an artist; then he will be able to satisfy us an audience.

In movies like The Terminal or the great Catch Me if You Can, he’s good and likable and charming, but he can do all of those things in his sleep. Even though he might have failed inRoad to Perdition, it was, at least, an interesting failure and showed that he was interested in growing as an actor and subverting his image as a wholesome superstar. I really enjoyed his rakish performance in Charlie Wilson’s War and enjoyed that movie as a whole, but it was the first time where I saw an actor really truly steal a movie from him; when Philip Seymour Hoffman is on screen, we hardly notice that Hanks is there and that had never been the case before for me.

Most actors and filmmakers work hard their whole careers in order to attain a certain amount of clout. Hanks arguably has more power than any other actor in Hollywood and it is disappointing to see him use his weight to help get a Dan Brown adaptation off the ground rather than challenging himself with more difficult material. I obviously can’t know what Hanks’ reasoning is for starring in these films, but I have a feeling that it isn’t to make his artistic mark. It would be one thing if it was taking these roles to help finance smaller, more intelligent films, but the films that he’s producing have been things like Mamma Mia! and City of Ember.

I do love what he has been doing on television, though, because John Adams, From the Earth to the Moon and Band of Brothers have all been some of the most worthwhile TV ever produced. But in terms of what Hanks is producing for the big screen, I really wish that he would take a darker turn in a smaller film. I wish he would get together with someone likeDavid Fincher or Mark Romanek or Rebecca Miller and remind us all of his versatility and show us that he still has a desire to really act and inspire us.

I’d also love for Hanks to get back behind the camera again; That Thing You Do! might not have been a classic film, but I found it to be an enjoyable one that showed Hanks could be as assured and confident behind the camera as he is in front of it and it was clear that this was a story Hanks was passionate about. Honestly, I don’t care how he does it, but I want Hanks to make the most of his enormous talent. I want him to find roles that he’s passionate about, to which he’s willing to commit his energy to bringing us something more than the mundane. I want Hanks to find that inner spark again and show it to us, to leave the mediocre Robert Langdon-type roles to actors of lesser talent, and do something surprising, even dazzling again.


The Movie-Going Experience

So I got a lot of feedback from you guys about last week’s column, which detailed my frustration with going to the movie theater today. I asked everyone for their best movie-going horror story and I got a lot of really terrible ones, but this one easily takes the cake:

hey there noah,

while i doubt you would ever print this i thought i’d share my worst movie-going experience: i was doing the stay-at-home mum shtick with a very active and cheeky toddler in the house, so between looking after the little hellraiser and the infinite loads of laundry and mind-numbing housework, i’d try to get to as many movie matinees as humanly possible in an attempt to retain my sanity and stay connected to my craft.

one particularly grim day when i’d felt frazzled and had enough, i was able to sneak out to a 11 AM matinee of ‘in the cut’. i knew a bit about the film and i was in the mood for some subversive, challenging, sexy campion, so i headed into the theatre full of hope as always and ready for some unconventional mystery, an unrecognisable meg ryan and mark ruffalo, completely unprepared for what would happen next. my first clue should have been the four lone men scattered through the otherwise empty theatre, but i was too stoked to be out of the house to really connect the dots. after the movie had started, i heard someone come in and sit a few rows behind me. i glanced over my shoulder at a nondescript man in the flickering light and shadow, then after a time i heard something that chilled my blood: that faint yet distinctive, slightly wet, rhythmic noise, which grew excruciating slowly but surely louder and faster…

now, of course i told myself, ‘get up and move to a different seat! GET UP AND MOVE BEFORE HE BLOWS! RUN AWAY! NOW!’ but for some reason – sheer embarrassment, misguided politeness, abject terror, i don’t know to this day – i was riveted to the spot and couldn’t move. so, all i could do was sit there, cowering and cringing in my seat, listening and waiting for the inevitable as the shadowy masturbator behind me finally built into a frenzied wank and finished with a shudder and a groan. and i swear, i felt that wad land on the back of my head and clot in my hair. of course this didn’t actually happen, but it was almost like the possibility of having a spider caught in your hair, my paralysis broke and it was all i could do not to freak out and jump out of my seat while tearing through my hair with my hands to make sure it was jizz-free.

so there you go. may i – or anyone for that matter – never have to experience that particular little shop of horrors again!


– Noah Forrest
May 18, 2009
Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon