One of my favorite film subjects, Tom Hanks is a fascinating actor/filmmaker. Search my site, you will find several entries, including more detailed reviews of the films below.
These three films are from Hank’s most recent work. This is the mature Hanks, who slips into character roles, like the finest actors of the past. Bridge of Spies, A Hologram for the King, The Post.
Hanks is a busy guy, these are three of the eleven films he has finished in the past six years.
Steven Spielberg directed both Bridge of Spies and The Post. Both are lofty stories of constitutional issues and democracy under threat. There is not a great of action in their film, more so in Bridge of Spies, these are more thrillers of people on the verge of history. Big things are at stake.
What you get with Spielberg is believability, whether it is a mechanical shark, an alien encounter, or an international negotiation of suspected spies. Spielberg is a master craftsman and Hanks is a very important tool. In both films, Hanks takes on the identity of actual people who were pivotal in very specific historical events.
These two films are Hitchcock territory, espionage and legal intrigue, with a hint of danger underneath. Hanks is taking on roles that Gary Cooper and James Stewart would have played. Men of integrity, in over a their heads, with no other logical choice but to continue along the path.
Bridge of Spies (2015) has a lot of moving parts, but the film lays out the story in easy to decipher terms. Hanks is like Stewart or Cary Grant in a Hitchcock film, somewhat confused, but leading the audience along the story narrative. Hanks plays James Donovan, an insurance lawyer drawn into a complicated international spy story. Donovan proves to be a man of moral principle, which provides to be a problem, but in the end, three lives depend on his principled action.
Donovan is not a glamorous role for Hanks, but it is his straight-shooting and uncompromising actions that drive the film. Sentimentalist Spielberg makes sure there is a payoff at the end of the film, unspoken, but communicated in three related scenes. Hanks is involved in all three, minimal, measured acting, but you get the point.
The Post (2017) is another Spielberg directed film, that puts Hanks in the challenging position of playing a less glamorous role beside Meryl Streep. Both play real life, well-known people, in an historic freedom of the press event that has been filed away by time, and overshadowed by Watergate.
Streep is wonderful in the role of Katharine Graham, publisher of the Post. The film is as much about her navigating the public stock offering to raise operating capital for the newspaper, as it is about the legal matters surrounding publication of Daniel Ellsworth’s liberated papers about the war in Vietnam.
The Post is of course the Washington Post, a driving force of investigative reporting and champion of freedom of the press. That is how we knew the newspaper after Watergate, but in 1971, the Post was the minor leagues compared to the New York Times.
The thrust of the film is the Post’s publishing sections of the Pentagon Papers following a federal court injunction that halted the New York Times from continuing to print excerpts from the document. The Post challenged the Nixon Administration in court, which threatened the stock offering, and divided the board of the Post.
Hanks captures the mannerisms of Ben Bradlee, Post managing editor, the gruff voice, sticking out the chin, and the feet on the desk; but does not submerge into the character fully like Streep does with Graham. That’s wise, this is not an acting competition. Hanks does enough to convey Bradlee’s personality, and his role in Graham’s life.
A Hologram For the King (2016) is a odd film for Hanks, but he’s known for taking quirky character roles. Here, he plays a salesman, trying to land a big international account, and turn around his fractured life. He’s doing it in Saudi Arabia, not just a foreign country but a foreign culture.
From the beginning, things do not go as planned for Alan Clay (Hanks). The film is about how Clay’s world comes apart, but in the free fall, Clay is able to free himself from the path he has traveled and find a new direction.
Clay is very much a Hanks character: A common guy who has to navigate problems, with a little humor, while twisted up in knots. There is a lot of pressure on Clay. His company does not understand how business seems to work in the Kingdom and are turning the screws on him to close the deal. His ex-wife considers him a disaster and is expecting him to come up with money to pay for their daughter’s college. Apparently, Clay has been out of work for awhile and money is tight until he can bring home this Saudi deal. Clay gets sick and must get treatment from a female Saudi doctor, who unexpectedly, he strikes up a friendship. The Saudis keep putting off his presentation and in the end go with another company. This would seem to be a major loss for Clay, but he pivots and turns the situation to his advantage. I will not spoil the ending if you are inclined to see the film, which I recommend.
These are three related, but different film characters. Bradlee faces the possibility of being held in contempt of court and seeing his newspaper go down in flames. Big stuff, but you never really get the idea that he is bothered by that. He sticks to his principles and helps Graham lead the way. Donovan is also ruled by principle and it puts him in a more vulnerable position. He must figure out how the Soviets and East Germans are playing him and get two Americans to freedom, not just one. He takes big risks, and you see him sweat and pressured to back down, but he stays true to his conviction. Clay is principled, but is living with failed decisions in his life, so he has professional and person conflicts in his life. Clay is extremely vulnerable, and this is the best Hanks character of the three roles. There is more of the familiar Hanks in this character. He can be silly, serious and romantic, and all believable.