Highlights: Tom Hanks

By Jason Barney

July 11, 2012

Even kindly Tom Hanks hates the Nazis.

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Tom Hanks is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars. He made his first impressions in the 1980s with comedic roles that were sweet and compelling. In the 1990s, he gave us several films that have achieved classic status. While it has been some time since he has received the awards he earned 15-20 years ago, he is still a pleasure to watch. Recently, he returned to the big screen in the little known Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Looking back, these are the top five films of Hanks’ career.

1) Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Tom Hanks already had several blockbusters and awards behind him when he teamed up with Steven Spielberg to create the greatest war movie ever made. Saving Private Ryan is Tom Hanks at his best, portraying a flawed but compelling character in history’s worst struggle. He plays Captain John Miller and movie fans are given a performance they will never forget. Saving Private Ryan is a very special film.

It starts off with the American ships approaching the coast of France during the D-Day invasion. Miller’s men are on one of the landing craft and audiences are on edge of their seats. The opening half hour of this classic is gruesome and in your face with the violence, but none of it comes across as over the top or unnecessary due to Hanks’ acting ability. As his character is thrown about on the beaches of Normandy and his men are torn to shreds, everybody watching is forced to realize that U.S. soldiers actually experienced the on screen carnage.

Most of Miller’s unit survives the opening day of the invasion, but fate and the U.S. Army have a special mission in store for them. Due to a compassionate rule about one family not suffering too many deaths during war time, Miller’s squad is sent to retrieve Private James Ryan (Matt Damon), whose brothers have all been killed. Miller’s men immediately think the mission isn’t worth it. They don’t want to put their lives on the line for some random soldier.


As they begin their search, the cruelties of war take over. They suffer casualties, fight off exhaustion, deal with horrible weather, and start to fray at the edges. The men continue on grudgingly, and watchers are drawn into Hank’s masterful performance. Miller’s unit follows him because they trust and believe in him. Viewers are drawn in because they can see World War II unfolding before their eyes.

Hanks is particularly good when showing his character’s nervous shaking hands. He comes across as vulnerable and human while carrying the weight of the war on his shoulders. Also, before the lead up to the climax, the soldiers all know a difficult battle is in front of them. Hanks is superb, keeping his command presence, maintaining his relationship with his fellow soldiers, and holding onto his sanity. In one touching scene his fellow soldiers are talking about female exploits, and he declines talking about his wife trimming the rose bushes, as that story, that shred of reality, is the life he wants to return to more than ever. It is just for him.

Memorable for its vivid action and intense battle scenes, Saving Private Ryan is Tom Hanks at his best.

2) Forrest Gump (1994)

One of Hanks most amazing performances is Forrest Gump. From the opening scenes, with a feather floating wonderfully through air, Forrest Gump allows us all to think about life, to contemplate possibilities, and to just slow down. How often do we watch a film and realize that any of us would trade our life for those experiences of perceived simpleton? That is part of the power of this one. It is told with a frame story that has Forrest sitting on a public park bench, just thinking about his life through innocent and disadvantaged eyes.

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