With open-faced honesty, Tom Hanks plays the title role of a disadvantaged man with an IQ of 75 whose innocence is so genuine, and whose faith and trust in people is so sincere, that he is incapable of cynicism.
Drawling like molasses on the tongue of a lazy alligator, he sounds even more slow-witted than he is, but as he moves from his Mama’s boarding house and out of his backwash Alabama town through three decades of turbulent American history, his lumbering pace seems the perfect antidote to the fast-lane fury around him.
The charm of his simplicity, the wisdom of his homespun homilies and his failure to absorb or understand the horror of anything that is going on around him lead him to extraordinary triumphs. Forrest becomes a role model for the wounded and the disenfranchised.
The cruelty of school bullies teaches him to throw away his leg braces and run like the wind – a talent that comes in handy when he becomes an accidental all-American football star.
A tour of duty in Vietnam is treated like an exciting adventure (“We wuz always lookin’ for this guy named Charlie”) but it’s Forrest who saves lives because he’s too dumb to comprehend the rules and obey the military orders.
Even when he lands in a hospital for wounded soldiers, Forrest sees the bright side in the daily scoops of free ice cream because the film (like the book by Winston Groom upon which it is based) is a parable, it’s not so surprising that a goon like Gump is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by Lyndon B Johnson, discovers the Watergate break-in while a guest of Richard Nixon, becomes an international Ping-Pong champion, amasses a great wealth in the shrimp trawling business, invents the smile button, and ends up on the cover of Fortune.
Nor is it surprising that his journey through 30 years of American history should be illustrated by amazingly rendered special effects. The director, after all, is the same Robert Zemeckis who created Who Framed Roger Rabbit! (1988), the three Back to the Future movies, and Meryl Streep’s severed head in Death Becomes Her (1992).
Like Woody Allen’s Zelig (1983), Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump character appears in the actual newsreel coverage of George Wallace’s integration of the University of Alabama, shakes hands with John F. Kennedy, mingles and jokes with Johnson, and Nixon, and appears on The Dick Cavett Show with John Lennon.
He has no opinions, no political point of view, no agenda, no comprehension of chance, destiny or fate.
And through it all, he changes the lives of others – especially his life-long girlfriend Jenny (beautifully played by Robin Wright) whose descent into drugs and self-destruction never shakes his faith or loyalty, and his commanding officer (a titanic performance by Gary Sinise) who survives Vietnam as a paraplegic.
Because Forrest follows narrow instincts and sees a silver lining, never fully absorbing the pain and suffering of others, his cheerful optimism becomes a symbol of inspiration. He’s too dependable, sincere and good-hearted to be true, his mind too unclouded by the detritus of life to end up cruel, ruthless or unhappy.
God, they say, takes care of children and fools. Forrest is both. Jenny makes him a father, the lieutenant makes him a millionaire, and the film is about the profound redemption of innocence.
In a perfect cast, Sally Field adds her own salty resolve as Forrest’s mother, a woman who never learns the definition of defeat, and Mr Hanks makes an indispensable centrepiece.
From the period costumes to the archival footage to the atmospheric anti-war rallies, protest marches, Black Panther meetings, drug dens, moss-drenched and magnolia-scented Southern houses, Asian jungles, and even the White House, Forrest Gump overwhelms with visual splendour while it massages your heartstrings.
Forrest Gump is nothing short of an American masterpiece. It won Oscars for Best Actor (Hanks), Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Film Editing, Best Screenplay and Best Picture.
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