Tom Hanks’s performance during the ending of Captain Phillips is a rare example of being too good. Those final scenes suddenly made me forget just how powerful the rest of the movie had been.
Hanks has had a great career, but he may as well simply use the last five minutes of this movie for his entire highlight reel. Fear, shock, dread, grief, worry, relief, gratitude, confusion—Hanks delivers each of these emotions within seconds of each other, and they have never felt more true.
Tom Hanks is a good guy, and one of the most overrated actors I can think of. He’s not a bad actor, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him truly completely transform on the screen into the character written on the page. We always know we’re watching Tom Hanks. He can’t begin to compare to somebody like Christian Bale in The Machinist and The Fighter and Vice, or Joaquin Phoenix in Walk the Line and The Joker.
I voted for Captain Phillips because that was a grittier and more emotionally demanding part, that I actually enjoyed.
I must say I’m very disappointed that he was cast as Fred Rogers. Haven’t seen the movie yet, but he doesn’t look or sound like Mister Rogers one bit. He’s got gray hair and the Mister Rogers clothes. But what else? Nothing.
Ben Bradlee is Hanks’ best role in the category.
By most accounts, Bradlee was a very confident individual, employing a combination of managerial brio and personal charisma that allowed him to move deftly among the establishment’s most powerful players (and defying them when necessary).
Hanks nails the character in his first scene (with Meryl Streep as Washington Post owner Katharine Graham). Bradlee, chafing at the multiple editorial suggestions made by his boss, quickly derails her intrusion with an insistent “Katharine, keep your finger out of my eye”. From there, Hanks incorporates the specific physical attributes of the man (continuous smoking, rolling up his shirt sleeves, growling vocal register and a subtle Boston accent) with tremendous effect.
Like Sully, Captain Phillips and Jim Lovell, this is a characterization of a man doing his job well. With this role, Hanks had the challenge of inhabiting a very well-known persona and one that had already been superbly defined by the great Jason Robards. This role may not be remembered as fondly as the others on the list, but in the moment, it is a near-perfect portrayal.
On last week’s show, Adam and Josh were both right to choose Hanks’ performance as Captain Phillips and, not surprisingly, the first reference that came to mind was the closing scene – that wonderful, emotional, devastating closing scene. Even for an actor with Hanks’ cinematic resume – which few current actors can even get close to – it’s a career highlight.
But I’d also like to note the other major protagonist in the scene – Danielle Albert, the medic who treats Hanks’ broken Captain Phillips. Her performance is one of those true, unexpected gifts of cinema. Ms. Albert was not an actor at all but an actual petty officer who was unexpectedly enlisted by director, Paul Greengrass, on that day to act alongside Hanks. Her role was not part of the original script but a pure moment of inspiration from Greengrass, and Albert’s performance is nothing short of inspirational itself.
It’s remarkable, perhaps, because it’s not actually a performance at all but just a simple moment of truth, which could not have been delivered with more truth, had it been planned. Hanks is remarkable – truly remarkable – in that scene, but it’s as much due to the way Albert plays the scene alongside him. The dialogue is as simple as it gets but the way it’s delivered is anything but simple. Albert’s medic tells Hank’s damaged captain: “You’re safe now, OK?”; he responds with a broken “thank you”; she lets him know “you’re welcome”. It’s cinema at its best.
Captain Phillips if only for the last scene entirely. He breaks into shock in a way that made me forget I was watching Tom Hanks (which is really, really hard to do in ANY Hanks film) and believe I was watching a man suffer. I started shaking and tearing up at that moment myself.
Hanks is one of those actors who is so beloved and well known that I think it can be hard for audiences to disconnect the actor from the characters he’s playing, which becomes particularly interesting when he’s playing a real-life person. He often finds ways to use that to his advantage, and especially in recent years I feel like he’s hit a stride that’s produced some of the best work of his career. Controversy about the real-life Captain Phillips aside, I feel like that movie may be the only time where I completely forgot that I was watching Tom Hanks in a movie. Perhaps some of that can be attributed to Greengrass’ docu-drama style, and the fact that Hanks was the only movie star in the piece, but that actually could have made his appearance stand out even more, and he totally disappears into the part. We’re there with him for the entire movie, the entire experience, which is crucial for that final scene to payoff, a scene that gives us an emotional release and catharsis that we didn’t even know we needed. Those final 10 minutes were a genius movie for the film, a scene that puts all of the weight on Hanks’ performance and allows him to show everyone what he can still do, better than he ever has. I think it’s the best scene of his career, and how well it works is a testament to how brilliant that entire performance is. Some people can discredit it as being a performance praised for that final scene, but that scene wouldn’t have worked the way that it did if Hanks hadn’t put in the legwork for the entire movie leading up to it.
So many great performances here (full disclosure: haven't seen Saving Mr. Banks), so to narrow it down I used one simple criteria: what movie do I think would be worst off without Hanks in it? After all all it says best performance, not best film.
With that in mind, I picked Charlie Wilson's War. I like that movie a lot, and even without Hanks you'd still have a great Hoffman performance, but it would be much less entertaining without Hanks for Hoffman to bounce off of.
I do love many of these performances but honestly, have we ever seen a more complete performance than Tom Hanks in Robert Zemeckis' "Cast Away". Anybody that can allow a full conversation with an inanimate object to be truthful and poignant needs serious credit. A powerhouse performance in every way. I would rather him lose both Oscars for Philadelphia (which should have gone to Liam Neeson that year) and Forrest Gump and him get the nod for this perfect performance!
These are all great performances but I had to go with Walt Disney. Hanks had to step into the shoes of one of the most filmed people in history. Walt Disney is an American ICON. While the script for Saving Mr Banks focused on PL Travers and the hard life she had as a young girl, the scene with Disney are heart warming. Tom Hanks handles many of Walt’s mannerisms flawlessly. It’s not an impression either. The artist/businessman/leader/huckster shows in all scenes.
Tom Hanks is beloved and one of our great actors, but part of that appeal is that you can always see his Tom Hanks-ness shining through. Even if its the gruff Ben Bradlee of "The Post," the calm Sully or the worried-but-competent Jim Lovell in "Apollo 13," there's always a line back to the competence, calm and decency Hanks brings with him.
Which is why "Captain Phillips" is my answer. For most of the run time of Paul Greengrass' movie, Hanks plays the typical role. He's scared, but he's smart. He's thinking through his situation, acting wisely and being the man we expect. But in the final moments, after the danger is over, Hanks delivers a performance we've never seen from him. Phillips, now safe, goes into shock. He's confused, disoriented, unable to get coherent words out. It's a performance the lets the air out of the bag a bit, deflating our notions that our heroes are never scared and always composed. It's raw and scary, and it lets Greengrass' movie end with a glimpse of what true heroism is: calm that sometimes masks sheer terror. It's one of Hanks' greatest performances.