Tom Hanks, known for his comedic roles in the early part of his career, became the darling of Hollywood with a more dramatic turn in the 1990s. He won back-to-back Oscars in 1993 and 1994 for his roles as a gay AIDS victim in Philadelphia and a Southern simpleton in Forrest Gump.
It was the latter, which has, in hindsight, become his defining performance, and turned him into a bankable star. Not only did the film sweep the board during that year’s Oscars ceremony, but it also grossed more than $677 million worldwide.
The film is now available on Blu-ray and can be streamed live from various online streaming services.
Lifted from Winston Groom’s 1986 novel of the same name, Forrest Gump is a sweeping epic that follows the life of its title character, whose own story is intimately entwined with that that of post-war America. Indeed, Hanks’ Gump is not only present at some of the defining moments of history, but positively influences them in dramatic ways.
Many of the film’s endearing qualities come down to the character of Gump himself. A kind-natured, but mentally retarded individual, Gump grows up in segregationist Alabama during the 1950s, and comes to epitomise the American dream without even trying.
He teaches Elvis how to shake his hips, becomes a football star despite an apparent disability, meets three presidents, as well as the Beatles, serves in Vietnam, gives a speech at the Washington Monument, becomes the first American to enter communist China, uncovers the Watergate scandal, creates a giant shrimping business, invests in Apple Computers, and becomes a celebrity by running across the U.S. for years.
It’s a running joke throughout the film that misfortune happens to befall so many of the historical figures he meets—Elvis Presley, John F. Kennedy, John Lennon and Richard Nixon. Gump himself, meanwhile, spends much of the two-and-a-half hours of the film in pursuit of Jenny, played by Robin Wright Penn; a girl he’s been in love with since he was a boy.
Her journey is more tragic than Gump’s, as she too aims to traverse the turbulent world of the 1960s and 1970s. But undoubtedly one of the real stars of the film is the special effects created by director Robert Zemeckis and his team. With what was ground-breaking digital editing at the time, Zemeckis uses a mix of archival footage and actors to place Hanks’ character in key scenes of history, all without ever causing the audience to blink.
Admittedly, the film suffers from over-sentimentality and for painting a somewhat glib portrait of America during the latter half of the 20th Century. But it succeeds with the triumphant performance of Hanks as well as the sweet love story at the heart of the film.