And it came to pass in the days of Spielberg and Zemeckis (and Ron Howard) that the people, too, sought the graven image of an Everyman who could be relied upon to save the day imperturbably in times of crisis, for Randolph Scott, Henry Fonda, and Gregory Peck no longer walked the land.
And the Agent of the Lord came down and took a meeting with Thomas. ‘You are the One the people seek – the One Tom to rule them all – and it shall be you,” he spake unto him. “We’ll forget about Punchline and The Bonfire of the Vanities, for life is a box of chocolates, as the prophet Gump’s mother saith.” And the One Tom was well-chosen as an unassuming hero of action dramas and thrillers for he combined all the virtues of earlier Toms, such as Tom Jefferson, the unbeliever Tom Paine, Tom Sawyer, Tom Joad, and Tom Mix. Yet the specific virtues of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom are criminally neglected by the movie capital to this day.
In course of time, the One Tom saved Private Ryan, gave himself up to the piratical spawn of Somalia to protect his ship’s crew, and soothed Cold War tensions in the days when Germany was sundered. Now, in Clint Eastwood’s Sully, the One Tom crash-lands a vessel of the air in the Hudson River, in which endeavor he is not graven but digital, as the One Clint ordained it. Thus, the spirit of James Stewart in No Highway in the Sky, Strategic Air Command, and Flight of the Phoenix lives on in the land.
And lo, the multitudes (excepting the unwashed disciples of indie films) rejoice in the One Tom’s espousal of the American Way once again, for it inspires them to save the day in their abodes and workplaces.
But it is prophesied there will be gnashing and wailing in the house of Thomas Mapother Cruise, the Other Tom, at least until the release of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back next month. Amen.
Above: Apollo 13 (1995), directed by Ron Howard. Hanks plays NASA astronaut Jim Lovell, commander of the beleaguered 1970 mission to the Moon. “Houston, we have a problem,” he tells mission control after an explosion ruptures a service module tank some 205,000 miles from earth. It takes a team effort by Lovell and module pilots Jim Swigert (Kevin Bacon) and Fred Haise (Bill Paxton) to save their spacecraft and their lives, but it’s Lovell, naturally, who pours oil on troubled waters and sees his ship home.
Above: Saving Private Ryan (1998), directed by Steven Spielberg. Three days after fighting a heroic action during the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, Hanks’s Captain John H. Miller is charged with rescuing the lone survivor of a family of four combatant brothers. He leads a small platoon to Neuville and locates Ryan (Matt Damon), who joins Miller’s men in a stand against advancing Germans. There’s as much Henry V as G.I. Joe in Hanks’s intrepid officer, though the sentimental homily with which he quells a potential mutiny overplays the ‘regular guy’ card.
Above: Captain Phillips (2013), directed by Paul Greengrass. In April 2009, the MV Maersk Alabama cargo ship was hijacked by four teenaged Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. Richard Phillips, the ship’s master, was taken hostage by the pirates, three of whom were eventually shot by Navy SEALs after American warships had secured the Maersk Alabama and escorted it to Mombasa. Though Phillips’ heroism has been discredited by some of his crew members, Hanks’ performance stresses the nobility of a captain who unhesitatingly risks his life to save his men. His rendering of Phillips’ post-traumatic convulsion is a career highlight.
Above: Bridge of Spies (2015), directed by Steven Spielberg. In 1957, the New York insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, who had been appointed to defend the Soviet agent Rudolf Abel, saved his convicted client from a death sentence. Five years later, he traveled to Berlin to manage the “spy-swap” of Abel for Gary Powers, the CIA U-2 pilot shot down over Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) in 1960. Donovan not only secured Powers’ release but that of the American scholar Frederic L. Pryor, who had been arrested by the Stasi. In Spielberg’s taut Cold War thriller, Hanks plays Donovan as a fish-out-of-water (one with a head cold) whose bluff exterior masks his guile as a negotiator.
Above: Sully (2016), directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie is structured as an inquest into the decision by airline captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, III to force-land United Airlines Flight 1549 in the Hudson River west of Manhattan on January 15, 2009. A trained fighter pilot with 40 years and 20,000 hours of flying experience is considered an authentic American hero, though one who never needed the accolade. Hanks portrays him as a retiring man, who is uneasy in the public spotlight but was cool and deliberate when given seconds to preserve 155 lives.