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Limelight -- Limelight: The sky's the limit
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 10 - 2002


Limelight:
The sky's the limit
By Lubna Abdel Aziz
The soft sad breezes of October bring to our shores as well as to the rest of the world an epic story of father and son, brought together from the Road to Perdition to the road to redemption. The film astounded both critics and audiences on its release this summer in the US. Its impressive cast and crew have accumulated years of experience, translated into 43 Oscars between them. The unique cast is headed by the legendary Paul Newman as Irish mob patriarch John Rooney, together with Tom Hanks as his surrogate son, Michael Sullivan. In a departure from his usual dignified and honourable nice guy image, Hanks plays morose and sober Chicago mob killer who carries out brutal, bloody missions for his boss. After the murder of his wife and young son, Sullivan embarks on a vengeful quest for the killer with his older son Michael Jr, and on the road they travel he discovers the meaning of fatherhood as he tries to save his son from travelling the same road that led to his downfall -- the road to perdition.
They do not come any bigger or better than Tom Hanks, not to mention any nicer. Men of such virtues seldom survive in the kingdom of Hollywood let alone become one of its 10 most important movers and shakers. Hanks has defied all Tinseltown's odds. He certainly does not possess the dashing looks of a Cruise or a Clooney, the visual genius of a Spielberg or a Lucas, the brass and brawn of a Schwarzenegger or Stallone. Yet today there is no voice more powerful in Show Business than that of plain, modest, soft-spoken, unimpressive, honest, dependable Tom Hanks.
This has been a good year for Hanks, as has every year for the last decade. Last week he won two Emmys for his work in the hit TV mini-series Band of Brothers. Co-produced with Steven Spielberg, the series won a total of six Emmys. In June he became the youngest recipient of Hollywood's most prestigious award, offered to a very select few -- The American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award which was presented to him by friend, partner, fellow AFI winner, and Malibu neighbour Steven Spielberg. This summer he also saw his small $3 million production of My Big Fat Greek Wedding grow into a surprising blockbuster, surpassing $160 million to date. As if all that was not enough, his latest film Road to Perdition has climbed over the $100 million mark, making it the 12th blockbuster of his career, a feat never achieved by any actor in the history of cinema.
Among his many memorable roles, eight were nominated by the academy, which awarded him Oscars for two. He became only the first man in history to win back to back Oscars for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994), since Spencer Tracy won for Captain Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938).
The buzz is, another nomination awaits him for Road to Perdition. Hanks delivers a compelling portrait of one tortured and lost, awakened by the horrors of his bloody profession. Often compared to leading men of Hollywood's golden era, like James Stewart and Gary Cooper, Hanks has woven his nice guy qualities into a screen persona that is totally acceptable and likeable by both audiences and critics. His name is now instantly associated with quality. Out of 33 feature films, 12 have been blockbusters, all in the last decade.
It has not always been so. Tom Hanks was once considered a joke in Hollywood. Born Thomas J Hanks on 9 July 1956, in Concord, California, Hanks led a nomadic childhood following his parents' divorce, and he and his two brothers travelled wherever their father's work as a chief, required. A theatre major at California State College in Sacramento, his outstanding performance in Chekov's Cherry Orchard, brought him to the attention of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Ohio where he spent the next three years, then headed for the Big Apple, in search of stardom. He went through all the required auditions, landing his debut role in He Knows You're Alone (1980). His fee was $800. After several TV appearances, director Ron Howard cast him in the lead in Splash (1984), where he falls in love with a mermaid. While the mermaid romance made some waves, he spent many years wading and waddling in the murky waters of a few forgettable features such as Bachelor Party and Dragnet. He achieved some success as a boy trapped in a man's body, or was it a man trapped in a boy's body in Big (1988), for which he received his first Oscar nomination. But it was not until 1992 that Hanks rose to the A-list as a star and an Oscar favourite in A League of their Own. He won the hearts of all women as the lonesome widower in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and the hearts of everyone in Philadelphia as the Aids victim for which he won his first Oscar. He followed this triumph with another Oscar for Forrest Gump, and made history. Everything he now touches turns to gold. If you are wondering about that winning streak of a dozen blockbusters, here they are: The Green Mile, Toy Story II, Saving Private Ryan, You've Got Mail, Apollo 13, Toy Story, Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Sleepless in Seattle, A League of their Own, Castaway and A Road to Perdition. All have grossed over $100 million in the US alone.
An actor with his stature, gets his pick of the best directors and Hanks has worked with the best of them, including Oscar winners: Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, Jonathan Demme, Steven Spielberg and now the youngest of them all Sam Mendes. Thirty-six-year-old Mendes follows his Oscar winning film debut American Beauty, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful films ever made by a newcomer with Road to Perdition. Since his magnificent debut, Mendes delivers a new rhythm to the screen, more operatic, elegiac as the movie journeys from red bloody hell to its final sun-kissed paradise, artfully stylised in beautiful Mendes fashion. All bets are for another Oscar nod for the young director.
Hanks may not make your head spin, or your heart beat madly with desire. He may not be the male idol men would like to trade shoes with. What he is, is what everyman is, what all men are, not what all men dream to be. He possesses that quiet magnetism that fills you with a deep sense of satisfaction and security. If Hanks is around then maybe all's well with the world. Still!
Apart from Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globe awards, Hanks was voted by Entertainment Weekly, as the only actor deserving of the $20 million salary. In their list of 100 greatest movie stars of all time, UK Empire Magazine ranks him as number17. He made $40 million for Saving Private Ryan, $70 million for Forrest Gump. If there are more bridges to cross, he will cross them. If there are more mountains to climb, he will climb them. Meanwhile the money, the honours, the accolades keep pouring in. He has been happily married for 12 years to actress Rita Wilson with two children and two others from a previous marriage. His favourite quote: "May you live as long as you want and not want as long as you live." Though there's little chance that he would ever want as long as he lives, we wish him the same. While good things do not always happen to good people, Hanks is again the exception to the rule, defying that famous adage: "Nice guys always finish last!" Come Oscar time, this nice guy is sure to be on top of everyone's list.


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