Tom Hanks is no Jimmy Stewart. That may be obvious today following Hanks’ comments regarding World War II and his embrace of unpopular President Barack Obama. But a decade ago, it seemed Hanks’ career might mimic that of the beloved Stewart.
Hanks started out on a silly sitcom where he dressed as a woman for cheap laughs. But once Hanks hooked up with director Ron Howard for the nimble comedy “Splash”, it became clear Hanks’s drag days were over.
His ascension to the A-list took some time, following comic misfires like “The Money Pit,” “Volunteers” and “Bachelor Party.” The 1988 charmer “Big” cemented Hanks’s versatility, and even an atomic bomb of a film like “The Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990) couldn’t derail his career.
More hits followed, from the triple-hanky “Sleepless in Seattle” to “A League of Their Own,” which let Hanks uncork one of his best lines.
“Philadelphia” affirmed his icon status, earning him his first Academy Award, and proved he could set aside his natural comedic talents to shatter our hearts. The hits kept on coming, from “Forrest Gump” to “Cast Away,” films which burnished both his mass appeal and talent. Who else could share the screen with a scarred volleyball without audiences blinking an eye?
Hanks’s first major misstep came when he embraced “The Da Vinci Code,” the bestseller which rubbed many Catholics the wrong way. Hanks’s star power was still a-blazing, so he could have easily passed on the divisive property.
Instead, he charged forward, putting a nick or two in his gold-plated image. It didn’t help that “Code” and its sequel were a mess–soupy narratives without enough popcorn-gulping moments to make us forget the spiritual offenses.
In between hit films, Hanks saw fit to promote World War II veterans and produce patriotic fare like “Band of Brothers” for HBO. But when it came time to gin up interest in a follow-up HBO project, the 2010 miniseries “The Pacific,” Hanks opened his mouth and put “One Red Shoe” in it during a chat with Time Magazine:
Back in World War II, we viewed the Japanese as ‘yellow, slant-eyed dogs’ that believed in different gods, he told the magazine. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We, in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different. Does that sound familiar, by any chance, to what’s going on today?
Hanks never fully backed away from those statements, and they came at a time when his box office average was starting to slip. A year later, he returned to the director’s chair to helm “Larry Crowne,” a clumsy ode to recession-era America. More recently, he turned in a sharp supporting role in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” available this week on Blu-ray and DVD.
Both films tanked.
Hanks’s box office clout had evaporated. And that was before the actor put his star power behind “Game Change,” the mean-spirited, inaccurate retelling of the 2008 presidential election; lent his voice to the factually challenged Obama 2012 campaign documentary, and offered a limp apology for cavorting with a man in black face at a school fundraiser.
So what’s next for Hanks? A little fence mending would help, perhaps another selfless ode to the men and women of the Armed Forces – but without any current or future projects to plug. So would a mass appeal film to make us forget some of the actor’s less advised comments.
Hanks still has the ability to win us over. He appeared on screen for only a few collective minutes in “Extremely Loud,” but his portrait of a caring father in those abbreviated sequences powered the narrative in a way other actors couldn’t achieve.
But those Stewart comparisons are likely gone for good.