Director: Robert Zemeckis
“A brisk trot through events in American history from the 1950s until the 1980s as seen through the eyes of one man. Forrest Gump succeeds as both epic and character study.” (829, Joanna Berry, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)
I don’t think I have ever seen a film with Tom Hanks in that I have disliked. He has to be one of the most likable actors in Hollywood – and he is one of the most talented to boot! Forrest Gump is another shining example of what a splendid actor Hanks is. Once again, as with his role in , Big (1988, Penny Marshall) he takes his cue from the actor playing his younger counterpart which adds a sense of continuity to the character. So much of the narrative of the film rests squarely on Hanks’ shoulders and he pulls it off effortlessly. Forrest is a remarkable character and it’s hard to think of anyone who could have played the part to the same caliber Hanks did – he really was the perfect casting.
Much of the film is told through flashbacks as Forrest relates his remarkable life story to a number of strangers waiting for the bus. An aspect that I really liked was the fact that Hanks does not age past his late teens. I think that by keeping the makeup simple, and not aging him through layers of prosthetics, keeps a more natural feel to the narrative. Now I know that in reality a more natural feel would be to have him visibly aging but I think the choice works. It remains in keeping with the simple feel of the film and allows the audience to focus on the emotions and Hanks’ stellar performance rather than on any technical wizardry. “Over the next three decades, this simple man meets John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon; becomes a Vietnam war hero (saving “Lieutenant Dan”, his grumpy superior brilliantly portrayed by Gary Sinise); and later a shrimp tycoon.” (829)
Hanks is ably supported by an excellent cast including the wonderful Sally Fields, is determined mother, and of course Gary Sinise as the crotchety Lieutenant Dan. The one weak link for me is Robin Wright as Jenny. As Joanna Berry says “[t]he love story between Jenny and Forrest is somewhat unconvincing – she seems to turn up only when she needs help, which makes her character less sympathetic.” (829) And I think this is very true.
“[…] works best as the moving story of an honest, innocent man (superbly played by Hanks, who modeled his distinctive accent on that of Michael Corner, who plays Forrest as a boy), and as a mediation on the latter half of the last century, made possible by computer trickery that places Hanks – to often hilarious effect – in old footage of notable events.” (829) I love the way they have slotted Forrest into various moments of history – even I as a Brit know all the key moments. Not only is it technically a clever achievement, especially considering it was the early ’90s, but they add to the comedy of the narrative and highlight the remarkable life Forrest has led.
I think my favorite moment of Forrest being inserted into old footage is the chat show with John Lennon where the lyrics of Imagine are bandied about in conversation. Equally amusing however is when he is the unwitting cause of the Watergate scandal, and Nixon’s subsequent departure, being discovered. Forrest’s matter of fact recitations of all the assassinations during that period strengthen the continued disbelief that such events could happen.
Forrest is an endearing character which comes across strongly when he recounts his life history. All these incredible opportunities fall into his lap and he has no idea how amazing they are. Hanks is the constant – his appearance and costume rarely change much, with the exception of his variety of military uniforms during his service. He is very much the centre of the film both emotionally and narratively. His love for his son is delightful to behold especially when he knows just how smart his boy is. Although Forrest seems oblivious to his differences his worry that his son may have a low I.Q. shows the audience that in fact this is not the case.
Forrest Gump is a beautiful film and one that further solidifies my opinion that Tom Hanks is one of Hollywood’s greatest actors. You can’t help but fall in love with Forrest Gump!