And while all of this is worth considering, it also seems to fall wide of the mark when you actually… watch many of his movies, or are capable of seeing them individually rather than dismissing them collectively. In News of the World, there is a satisfyingly slow-burn depiction of chaotic, violent life in a Texas viciously divided by the Civil War and still simmering with class and race resentment, as Americans of all kinds – white, Native, and black – attempt to co-exist. The implications about the US today are pretty self-evident.
There’s also the fact that when he’s at his best, Hanks is hard to outshine. There are those outstanding final moments in real-life hostage drama Captain Phillips (2013), about the hijacking of a US merchant ship by Somali pirates, in which his traumatised mariner is moved to near-hysteria by his ordeal; his gentle, soft-spoken directness as US children’s TV icon Mister Rogers, in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019); the red-eyed but dignified calm of his astronaut commander Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 (1995), telling his fellows it’s been a privilege to fly with them as he steels himself for death; even his tragicomic muffled coughs as a man with a perennial cold in Bridge of Spies (2015).
Hanks is representative of a potentially dying breed: a good, old-fashioned movie star whose “real life”, whatever that may be, seems curiously, almost magically aligned to his gentlemanly image. Blurring these boundaries between on and off-screen personae is part of the fabric of star power. In our deeply cynical times, where celebrities have fewer and fewer secrets, that is an increasingly rare thing to see. It makes Hanks a movie star we can wholeheartedly believe in – a man who emanates such earnest warmth that it’s difficult to imagine his legacy will be anything but enduring.
News of the World is available now to rent in the US on streaming platforms, and is released on Netflix around the world on 10 February.
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