16 min read

The Best Of Tom Hanks

T. Hanks a lot.

Following a study, 9 out of 10 scientists have confirmed that everyone on the planet enjoys at least one Tom Hanks film. The tenth scientist was in fact Tom Hanks pretending to be one and even then the other lot loved him for it. Such is the gift and curse (but not really) of being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, who is finally arriving at our shores as one of the nicest guys on American television – Fred Rogers – in A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

Directed by Marielle Heller, the film tells the true story of Esquire writer Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who is tasked with writing a piece on U.S. children’s television show host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks). Dubious of the living legend and his oh-so squeaky-clean persona, Lloyd reluctantly gets to know the man that has stolen the hearts of millions and just what makes him tick. It turns out its kindness and is one of life’s many rarities; a simply good person.

Now before we take a visit to Mr Rogers’ neighbourhood, here are some essential moments that have paved the brilliant career for chocolate box-gobbling, volleyball-loving, typewriter admiring ledge that is Tom Hanks. 


Big

A title fitting of the shift in Hanks’ career after he took the role, Big is not only one of his most favoured films, but also his most iconic entries during his 80s comedy run. In between winning mermaid’s hearts and worrying about new neighbours and their activities, here he was as pre-teen kid in an older man’s body and he sold it from the moment his feet hit the floor. 

Getting his dream job designing toys, staying up for as long as he wants and having a vending machine mere feet from his bunk bed, Hanks is relishing in the life any kid can dream of and it never gets old. There are some elements of Penny Marshall’s coming-of-age-and-back-again comedy that haven’t quite stood the test of time, though. 

Elizabeth Perkins trying it on with a work colleague that is really not even old enough to be employed meets the same cringe-levels as the McFly love triangle of Back to the Future. Even so, just like that classic, there’s too much here to make sure Big never outgrows it’s welcome. Chopsticks, anyone?


Road To Perdition

It was in Sam Raimi’s overlooked gangster father and son story that we got our always likeable leading man being a corrupt and flawed one for a change. Based on the comic book of the same name (yeah, you heard me), Road to Perdition saw Hanks as a stoic enforcer to Paul Newman’s 1930’s mob boss going rogue, with his only surviving son (a now CW Superman, Tyler Hoechlin) in tow.

All mob films lean on family, but Road to Perdition is one of the few contenders about the bond between father and son. Young Hoechlin sees a hero even in the villain that is his father and Hanks displays it with a rough-edged and enervated combination that affirms the idea Michael Sullivan Sr. is a nasty bit of work with the best intentions. 

The role is one of Hanks’ finest simply because of the balance given in a character type we’d come to expect from him at this point, and a cold-blooded killer we hadn’t. For every father-son moment had with Hoechlin, there’s that chilling killing in the rain that amplifies Hanks’ anti-hero isn’t a good or a bad man, it’s just one astounding performance.


Forrest Gump

It may well have been the punchline in a Ben Stiller film, but there’s no denying that Tom Hanks’ second Oscar win may well be his most quotable gig that doesn’t see his character in a cowboy hat. Alabama-born football-star, war hero, jogger and shrimp business titan Forrest Gump was actually born through the same means as his character in Big. That is to say, he first mirrored the actor that played his role at a younger age, before stepping into what would become the well-worn shoes of Forrest, himself.

From there the journey however extravagant it may seem saw Forrest keep a firm grip on our heartstrings and he overcame adversity, heartbreak and ping-pong tournaments after a tour in Vietnam (“it’s like this whole other country”). Looking back now and the digital insertion of Tom Hanks straight-faced loveable oaf may not have aged well, but his turn Forrest Gump is one that never gets old.


Saving Private Ryan

Spielberg may have dropped us on the beaches of Normandy, but Tom Hanks dragged us through it and beyond in the war movie that has yet to be matched. Saving Private Ryan saw Hanks as Captain Miller, the seasoned and solemn leader of a nine-man squad tasked with rescuing one; Matt Damon’s titular soldier, who as far as Miller saw, got him one step closer to going home. Describing the character as ‘strong, but simple’, Spielberg admired Hanks for establishing Miller as a ‘great leader, but a compassionate one.’

Often joked about in between the battles and skirmishes to safety, none of the squad has a lick of information about their C.O., who goes to every effort to keep it that way. From the off we see Hanks’ reluctant hero leading a band of many from a distance, confiding in his second in command (with Tom Sizemore being an impressive shoulder to lean on), in the film’s quiet moments as he questions not just the mission, but his own morality in the field of war.

All of this comes to a head on a smoke-laden hillside as Miller reveals his past, what he hopes for the future, and his desperation to keep hold of what’s left of himself. Even in a film with one of the greatest battle scenes put to screen, Hank’s gradually crumbling confession of a school teacher still makes an impact, filling in part of another Oscar-nominated role that is up there with the greats.


Philadelphia

The film that started his back-to-back Oscar win was also the start of the Tom Hanks we’ve come to know and love. The story goes that the actor pushed his agent to cold-call Jonathan Demme pleading for his client to take the part of Andrew Beckett, the lawyer that is unlawfully dismissed from his firm after it’s revealed he has AIDS. Gone was the goofy man-child from Big or the goon of a groom-to-be in Bachelor Party, here he was acting opposite Denzel Washington (another rising star that would soon go supernova) and delivering just as much.

A topic of controversy at the time, together Demme and Hanks worked to remove the demonisation associated with homosexuality and create a flawed and fragile soul, with the latter going through physical exertion to bring Beckett to the screen. His diet for Philadelphia was strictly lettuce, transforming him from the plucky comedy poster boy he was desperate to get away from, shifting into a more skeletal frame to provide a solid image of those who’d fallen victim to the virus that had stigmatised an entire community.

By shining a spotlight on a topic that so many were turning away from, Hanks breathed life into a character that was slowly losing his. Seeing that spark wane through the film even now is an impressive watch, and is still one of the actor’s most overlooked entries. Make sure you don’t.


Toy Story

As far as animated characters go, Tom Hanks pull-string protagonist from the Toy Story franchise is up there with the mouse in red shorts and the wisecracking wabbit. Sheriff Woody wasn’t just part of a breakthrough in computer animation, but a character that had Hanks stitched into his spirit. Seeing him try to fight with a new toy in the bedroom made for one of the greatest family films ever made, which unbelievably led not only for the world to develop in sequels, but Woody to become a more complex character with every chapter.

There may still be a debate whether we needed the fourth story or not, but the fact that the final one was so focussed on Hanks heroic cowboy and the tearful decision he made showed how far he’d come since 1995. When Woody finally parted ways with Buzz, audiences were almost parting with their childhood. Not really, of course, Hanks had helped form a childhood friend that would always be around for infinity and…well, you know.


The Green Mile 

If you’re the director following up what would soon be deemed (by IMDB, at least) as the greatest film ever made, it would help to have one of the greatest actors of our time to be on board with it. Paul Edgecomb feels like quintessential Hanks; the everyman with his own issues trying to keep his world in order, before a tower with a heart of gold wanders into it.

For its dark tones, and like Andy Dufresne’s redemption at Shawshank, a constant focus on the thin line between right and wrong, The Green Mile shines brightest when Edgecomb is trying to understand the miracle that’s walked onto his block. During its three-hour runtime, Hanks and his late great co-star Michael Clarke Duncan have very time together on screen, but that’s not to say that every second spent together makes the film all the more compelling, and any viewer a sobbing mess by the films end.


Cast Away

In Robert Zemeckis’ one-man show, you’ll believe a man can cry, over a volleyball of all things. It’s always a brave endeavour to go solo in a feature film as some of the greats can attest to, but Hanks’ go at modern-day Robinson Crusoe works just right. Showing all the sides of a man isolated and alone, Cast Away was a testament to how far his career had come when all it needed was his name alone on the poster, and for the rest of the film.

It may have some pacing issues but Tom Solo carries the film effortlessly with no one but Wilson to keep him company. When the movies greatest triumphs are simply starting a fire and overcoming the lowest point someone can be pushed, your with Hanks every battered and bloody footed step of the way.


Catch Me If You Can

One of the few gigs on this list where Hanks isn’t taking the lead, his second on-screen effort under the direction of Spielberg saw him as FBI agent on the hunt for Leonardo DiCaprio’s true-life con-man Frank Abagnale, Jr. Applying Hanks in the role immediately transformed Carl Hanratty into a no-nonsense manhunter whose obsession for his target is only matched by his respect when the chase comes to an end.

Interestingly in a film about a true-life fraudster, Hanks’ character wasn’t actually a real one. Working from a combination of agents that were tasked with bringing in Abagnale, they clearly blended the best to create one great half of a double-act. Hanratty nips on the heels of Abagnale for an age until he plays his target at his own game. The chemistry between the two is one that we could desperately do with having another dose of. We just need to catch them first.


Captain Phillips

During Paul Greengrass’ brief hiatus away from amnesiac assassins, he took on the true story of Captain Richard Phillips, who was taken hostage for four days after he and the crew of the Maersk Alabama were invaded by Somali pirates.

Hanks is simply being 100% true in the role, if not aided by the exceptional storytelling of Greengrass who casts his unflinching and unfiltered lens on an event that rocked the world. But only does the films leading man to deliver the standard we’ve come to prepare for, he aids in elevating the intense and incredible debut performance from Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leader and newly appointed Captain.

While it may not be one that’s revisited as much as Mr Hanks’ other entry on the list, the one scene that will stand out forever as a testament to him as an actor is in the film’s final moments. With the nerve-shredding scenario over with, Phillips sits down for a check-up by an EMT and proceeds to finally let his emotional hull give way and respond to the unthinkable situation he’s escaped from. Seeing Hanks as a rattled soul both inside and out will leave you drawn in no matter how many times you see it. It’s perfectly soul-destroying.


Which out of this list is your favourite Tom Hanks gig? Any that were missed out that make you curse like a cotton-filled cowboy who just got paired up with a delusional space ranger? Sound off in the comments below and be sure to send a heart my way.