Tom Hanks' Most All-American Roles Leading To 'Bridge of Spies'

Tom Hanks' Most All-American Roles Leading To 'Bridge of Spies'

By Robert Dougherty Oct 12, 2015 09:16 AM
Photo Credit: DreamWorks Pictures

Most everyone who has seen Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies states that he is right in his element. That element is pretty much as the symbol of America, or at least the upright, moral version of America Hanks has embodied so many times before, in so many different eras. At this point, Hanks is as much a symbol as an actor these days, having spent 20 years slowly but surely wrapping himself in the American flag on screen.

The list below details the roles that helped turn Hanks's on-screen persona into the American ideal -- not counting Bridge of Spies or his upcoming take on Sully.

Forrest Gump

Paramount Pictures

The role that will run after Hanks forever redefined him in more ways than one. Forrest was basically one giant metaphor for America as it drifted around in its most turbulant times -- although what that says about America, and whether it celebrates the wrong things about it, has been debated for about 21 years.

But whether Forrest reflects America's endlessly positive attitude, its ability to overcome anything, its ignorance, its naivity or all or none of the above, he is one big Rorschach test in some way -- and from then on in, so was Hanks.

Apollo 13

Universal Pictures

Hanks next played a real life American hero in what was ultimately one of the most triumphant stories of 1970s America. Apollo 13 made people bite their nails over the crippled space craft and its astronauts, then cheer for the American ingenuity that saved them all over again -- and made Hanks more associated with the phrase 'Houston, we have a problem' than Jim Lovell himself.

Saving Private Ryan


Hanks' first film with Steven Spielberg took the concept of his already familiar 'ordinary man turned American hero' persona to new extremes, as he marched through the most extreme depictions of WWII in our time. But schoolteacher turned Captain John Miller finds his way through it, not to save a nation but a man he's never met -- and to give him a message afterwards.

Charlie Wilson's War

Universal Pictures

This is the closest Hanks has ever come to subverting his all-American image, all while still somewhat celebrating it. Charlie Wilson's War shows how one ordinary, unimportant Congressman used the wheelings and dealings of the American political machine to fund a war that destabilized the Soviet Union for good in Afghanistan. It was the ultimate story of American triumph -- albeit a largely secret one -- until about 2001.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Warner Brothers Pictures

On 9/11, America lost a great symbol of power, strength and unity, which made it spiral out of control, lash out in somewhat ill-advised ways, and struggle to wonder what to make of life now. That is pretty much the dynamic of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close as well, only the young boy Oskar is America, his dead dad Hanks is the Twin Towers, and 9/11 is still 9/11.

Saving Mr. Banks

Walt Disney Pictures

By this point, there was absolutely no one else better suited to play the likes of Walt Disney than the likes of Hanks -- at least in a celebratory account of Disney -- in this second movie where Hanks helps in Saving someone. Although going up against Mary Poppins author P.J. Travers is made to be as difficult as going through WWII, everything is set up for another Hanks character to win the day with a smile and a tribute to treasured American values.

Captain Phillips

Columbia Pictures

Once again, Hanks is an American that needs to be rescued, only at the sea and from Somali pirates instead of in space. But in this case, there's little Captain Phillips can do except hold on to survive in time, although that too comes with a heavy trauma.

Tags: Bridge of Spies (2015), Forrest Gump (1994), Apollo 13 (1995), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Charlie Wilson's War (2007), Captain Phillips (2013), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011), Saving Mr. Banks (2013), Tom Hanks
About the Author
Robert Dougherty is a longtime online freelance writer, who wrote reviews, articles & editorials on movies/TV for several years on the now defunct Yahoo Voices.
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