1994, PG-13, 142 min. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field.
REVIEWED By Robert Faires, Fri., July 15, 1994
Like the chocolates that its titular hero generously offers strangers at a bus stop, this story of a simple man's journey through life and the turbulent events of post-war America is both dark and sweet, with a center that is soft but also rich and surprising. Forrest Gump (Hanks) is a young Alabaman of slight intelligence who nevertheless has a strong sense of self -- drilled into him by his where-there's-a-will-there's-a-way mama (Field) -- that sees him through being taunted by bullies, playing college football, the army, a business, and -- amazingly -- many of the touchstone events of the Sixties and Seventies: civil rights battles, the Vietnam war, anti-war protests, opening relations with China. The story's extraordinary conceit is that this man, equal parts Candide and Winnie-the-Pooh, was there whenever something big happened to America in those years, meeting Presidents and pop stars, influencing thinkers and trends, his story being our story as a nation. Much of the film is about the country's pain over having its innocence ripped away in that era by war and civil strife and how, in Forrest Gump, the child lived on. He's our glimpse of a way to have weathered the winds of change, to have risen on their fierce currents and landed in one piece with our souls intact. But the film's allegory works in balance with the personal saga of its hero, his lifelong love for his friend Jenny (Wright) and devotion to his soldier pals Bubba (Williamson, giving single-mindedness a hilarious polish) and Dan (Sinise, roaring and marvelous). The sentiment flows freely here but not cheaply, because Forrest is not portrayed as a simple man. While he looks to be only primary colors, Hanks gives him all the shades of the 64-crayon box; humor, rage, suspicion, doubt, longing, all swirl in his mesmerizing performance. Eric Roth's script (from Winston Groom's novel) and Zemeckis' cunning direction contribute still more, humor and sweep and a remarkable balance of sentimentality and harshness, darkness and light. They show assassinations, addiction, and Vietnam in all their violence and trauma, yet still affirm human emotion and a potential for healing. It's a delicate trick, achieved with substantial wit, feeling, and intelligence. More could be said about the film; it has many layers to be peeled back and savored. Wherein lies the surprise: that just another summer show from Hollywood can hold such complex flavors and an aftertaste that deepens for days.