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Thursday, May 1, 2008


Hanks goes to war

Hollywood's enduring Everyman tries everything to avoid the 'Tom Hanks role'

Special to The Japan Times

'It has been said by at least one Hollywood pundit (TV broadcaster and film critic David Sheehan) that two-time Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks is more than just an ordinary face. Not a pretty face, for the star's enduring popular appeal has never depended on his looks or sex appeal. In fact, in the hit baseball-themed semi-comedy "A League of Their Own" (1992), Hanks looked scruffy and overweight, commenting at the time the movie came out, "Any alleged hunkiness I ever had is shot to hell in this picture!" He has long since cleaned up his appearance, so to speak, though he's still "not exactly starving."

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Tom Hanks plays the title character in "Charlie Wilson's War" © 2008 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Hanks, an Everyman symbol, is an actor who makes it look easy and with whom a broad spectrum of people can identify. He is likable and without airs, complexes or anything resembling a chip on his shoulder. He's adept at comedy, and initially propelled his career via television sitcoms such as "Taxi," "Happy Days" and "Family Ties." "I like comedy, because it lowers our defenses," he tells The Japan Times. "It brings out what is human in us; our shared vulnerability and sense of ridiculousness."

When Tom plays a role that isn't simple or expected (as in "Forrest Gump," 1994) and it turns into a hit, many people — the public and critics alike — are surprised. Others point out his versatility, which is easily camouflaged by his simplicity as an individual and a performer. Asked whether he has a technique or method, the actor offers, "I read the lines, I memorize them, then I say them."

Now, in "Charlie Wilson's War," out in Japan on May 17, the star is again confounding the public by not playing a "Tom Hanks role" — and not only carrying it off, but scoring another hit along the way.

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Julia Roberts stars with Hanks in "Charlie Wilson's War" © 2008 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Asked what he thinks could be defined as a Tom Hanks role, he notes thoughtfully, "Oh, gee. I suppose . . . a guy who's nice to people and gets a little bored with his life and looks for some adventure, then returns to his everyday but now quite fulfilling life."

For an actor who often plays ordinary joes, Tom's characters do get quite a bit of adventure, whether it's a boy inhabiting a man's body (as in his 1988 hit "Big," directed by Penny Marshall, as was "A League of Their Own"), or on a desert island ("Cast Away," 2000), or in the midst of World War II ("Saving Private Ryan," 1998), or suing his former law firm for firing him because he's HIV-positive (as in 1993's "Philadelphia," his first Oscar-winning role) or romancing a mermaid (in another early hit, 1984's "Splash").

Now he's Rep. Charlie Wilson, a politician who wants to make a name for himself and earn his country's admiration by conquering Afghanistan, by means of kicking out the conquering Soviet occupiers. In so doing, Wilson and the United States help empower the local ambitious and fanatical Taliban, who are still waging a battle for control of Afghanistan today.

Based on a book by George Crile, "Charlie Wilson's War" was written for the screen by Aaron Sorkin ("A Few Good Men"), with the renowned Mike Nichols directing. Julia Roberts costars, also in an atypical role, as a rich, actively anti-Communist supporter of Wilson's plan. A third Oscar-winner, Philip Seymour Hoffman, costars as a pivotal character who helps disestablish the Soviets and usher in another repressive regime — one just as anti-American, if not more so.

"There are several angles to the story, to this motion picture," explains Hanks. "One of the key elements is how gung-ho a lot of politicians and Washington (D.C.) figures were back in the Reagan and (first) Bush era. It was, in a sense, like a sport with them — our team vs. their team. Dividing the world into camps, or teams. The egos were large, the goals were large, but the sensitivity was . . . it was minimal.

"And — and here's the key part — there was so little real thought to the consequences of all this; to what came after. To what happens, what happened, after they got the Russians out. And not only that, but so little thought was given to the implications of what or who you are using to get the Russians out. To whom," Tom pauses for emphasis, "you are handing over this new power, these new weapons, and to what they're going to use it all for. And against . . ."

Not everyone is convinced that the film accurately portrays the events in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It has been reported that Canadian journalist Arthur Kent is suing Universal Studios and other production companies for unauthorized use of his video footage and voiceover used for a 1986 BBC news report in the movie. He has reportedly labeled the studio "arrogant" and the film "grossly inaccurate," and is seeking unspecified damages and for the film to cease distribution.


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