erik lundegaard

Missing Tom Hanks

Casting Tom Hanks as the father who goes missing/dies on 9/11 in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a great idea for two reasons: one obvious, one subtle.

The obvious reason is that everyone loves Tom Hanks and will feel his loss along with his movie wife and son (Sandra Bullock and Thomas Horn).

The subtle reason is that Tom Hanks himself kind of went missing after 9/11. At least the Tom Hanks we said we loved.

Hanks dominated the ‘90s like no actor dominated a decade. He got nom’ed best actor three times and won it twice. Three of his films were the No. 1 movie of the year (“Forrest Gump,” “Toy Story,” and “Saving Private Ryan”), while others finished third for the year (“Apollo 13”), fifth (“Sleepless in Seattle”), 10th (“A League of Their Own”), and 12th (“Philadelphia,” “The Green Mile”). In 2000, he was nom'ed again for “Castaway,” basically a one-man show on a desert island; and yet, since that one man was Tom Hanks, the movie was the second highest-grossing movie of the year.

Since 9/11? Oscar hasn't called. He hasn't even texted.

In 2002, Hanks appeared in two movies, “Road to Perdition,” which finished 19th for the year, and “Catch Me If You Can,” which finished 11th. Both movies, like every Tom Hanks vehicle since 1993, grossed over $100 million.

But this string of successes stopped in 2004. First, “The Ladykillers” bombed with both critics and audiences, grossing only $39 million. Then, inexpicably, “The Terminal,” a feel-good film directed by Steven Spielberg, and launched in the middle of summer, also failed to gross $100 million. As did “Charlie Wilson’s War” in 2007 and “Larry Crowne” this year. “Larry” didn't even gross what “Ladykillers” did back in '04.

Hanks’ recent animated films (“Polar Express”; “Toy Story 3”), as well as his “Da Vinci Code” movies, tend to do well at the box office. But with the exception of “Toy Story 3,” they’re not highly regarded by critics and audiences. No one thinks of them as great films.

Hanks' '90s movies were central to the culture and conversation. Since 2001? What’s worth talking about? What’s worth keeping? Yes to “Toy Story 3,” and maybe to “Catch Me If You Can.” Anything else?

Our culture just doesn’t do Tom Hanks movies anymore. We do tentpole flicks and superhero epics. We do movies about magic powers. We were attacked in the real world so in movie theaters we cower behind capes and wands and imagine we're strong.

Casting Tom Hanks as the father in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a subtle reminder of all of this. It's a reminder of what was better about us before 9/11.

Tom Hanks in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (2011)

He was with us once. Remember?

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Posted at 07:06 AM on Mon. Oct 31, 2011 in category Movies  
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