Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Seeing Everything With Childlike Simplicity: Forrest Gump Endures!

The Good: Heartwrenching in character, Excellent Acting, Fine Direction
The Bad: Slow through much of the film, Wandering Plot
The Basics: Charming and complex, Forrest Gump tells a wonderful story about a simple man in a changing world.

Perhaps one of the most appropriately awarded acting awards in the past two decades was Tom Hanks' Best Actor Oscar for Forrest Gump. Why? It truly does illustrate greatness for such an intelligent man to play, so flawlessly, a simpleton like Forrest.

Forrest Gump, the film and the character, begins on a bench waiting for a bus, telling person after person the story of his life. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that Forrest is special, in more ways than one. Telling the story of his childhood where he was beaten up because of his lack of intelligence by local boys in Alabama, Forrest relates how he went from running away from jerks to playing football to joining the U.S. Army, to playing ping pong professionally to becoming the owner of a fleet of shrimp boats to running across country several times. Along the way, he receives accolades from presidents and finds himself in the company of various awkward characters, including Bubba in the Army, Dan Taylor, Gump's Commanding Officer in Vietnam, and Mrs. Gump, Forrest's supportive mother. Throughout, Forrest's witless adventures interweave with those of Jenny, who epitomizes the lack of innocence of the times. In the late fifties, she poses for Playboy, in the sixties, she is a hippie, in the seventies, she is heavy in the drug culture, and in the eighties, she dies of what may be inferred as AIDS.

Forrest Gump is a pretty rich film fleshing out well the changing times of U.S. life over four decades with its protagonist barely appearing to age at all. Perhaps that's the magic of the film, the timeless quality to Forrest in contrast to the dated fashions of Jenny.

Of course, some would say that the magic of this film is in its seamless insertions of Forrest into historic events. He is at the University of Alabama when it is desegregated, he meets - and we see him with - Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. The effects whereby he is placed on known historical footage is quite incredible. And it works well.

Forrest Gump is an interesting character and an excellent example of how how other people react to a character defines who they are. Indeed, Forrest describes what he sees and more often we learn about him by how people react to him. And there's irony there: for example as Forrest tells his story, a young nurse - who we must suppose is compassionate - is rushed and does not listen to Forrest, whereas an elderly lady - for whom time must be a commodity at her age - sits and listens to Forrest with eager anticipation.

Indeed, the only real problem is how much the writer and director attempt to fit into the film. Too many sections of Forrest Gump feel long. So much happens in the first fifteen minutes that afterward, the viewer is anticipating more events in rapid succession. Instead, Forrest's military career is belabored. His thoughts on Jenny take a long time to develop and when it's not slow, it seems to wander pointlessly. Or perhaps aimlessly is a better word.

Even with those problems, the acting still makes it worth the price of admission alone. Tom Hanks is not the only person giving a great performance. Sally Field does a great job as Forrest's mother, as Mykelti Williamson does well fleshing out Bubba as someone different than Forrest but with some sense of being a kindred spirit. But the man who makes all of his scenes worth watching is Gary Sinise. He plays Lieutenant Dan with a wonderful mixture of resentment and fury that keeps us glued on him.

All in all, there's something here for everyone. There's humor, occasionally. There's romance, war loss, tragedy and, in the end, love. This is possibly the ultimate story of how love can take a lifetime to be realized. If only it didn't feel that long!

As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this film is part of W.L.'s Best Picture Project, available by clicking here!

For other works featuring Tom Hanks, please check out my reviews of:
Toy Story 3
Charlie Wilson’s War


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2009, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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