By John H. Foote
After winning two Academy Awards and being most deserving of a third in Cast Away (2000), still his finest performance, Tom Hanks was ready for a monumental challenge. It came when Oscar winner Sam Mendes approached the actor to play a thirties mob hitman in Road to Perdition (2002) opposite no less than Paul Newman as an Irish mobster chief.
Unlike anything the actor had portrayed before, Michael Sullivan was a quiet, taciturn man who when assigned a killing did so with brutal ruthlessness and left nothing undone. His reputation as the Angel of Death for John Rooney (Newman) was nationwide and well respected even in Chicago by the Capone gang. When Rooney’s son lashes out in jealousy, killing Sullivan’s wife and youngest son, the hitman goes on the road with his oldest son, protecting him but working his way back to the killer.
Cast against type, Hanks was no one’s choice for the role except Mendes who had earned the power and right to cast whoever he wanted with his Oscar winning debut film American Beauty (1999). Grim faced, intense, deadly Hanks was brilliant in the film, proving his range to be unlimited.
For his 10-minute sequence back on the ship where he is being checked over by the medical team, in Paul Greengrass’ Captain Phillips Hanks deserved the Oscar itself. Well, maybe, Leonardo Di Caprio was electrifying in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). His Captain is in deep shock having watched men shot to death around him and having endured beating and torture at the hands of the Somali pirates who took his ship from him. Now rescued, the pirates dead (except the leader who is in custody), he is being examined by a patient but very business like doctor. Phillips is shaking, can barely speak and looks at her often like he is seeing another human being for the first time. Perhaps he cannot believe he is seeing a person who does not wish to hit him or pound away on his body. It is a heartbreaking scene to see the confident Captain reduced to this state, as we have seen him with his family and aboard his ship running the show. When boarded by pirates he does his best to keep things safe but ends up beaten and tortured.
Both performances were snubbed, shamefully by the Academy.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.