movie film review | chris tookey

Forrest Gump

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  Forrest Gump Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
8.45 /10
Tom Hanks , Sally Field, Robin Wright
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Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Eric Roth from Winston Groom's novel

Released: 1994
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Length: 142


A simpleton (Tom Hanks) prospers through the last four decades of the 20th century, thanks to luck, the ability to run fast, and an intuitive sense of right and wrong.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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The surprise smash-hit of 1994, Forrest Gump is a 90s update of the American Dream. The hero is the kind of good, if slightly scrambled, egg who would never say anything hurtful and would only resort to violence to protect a woman or his country. He's a regular sort of guy, except of course that he's abnormal. He is also beautifully acted. Hanks does more than reprise his overgrown child routine from Big; he adds a meticulous Southern accent, an adult compassion and sensitivity which makes this probably the finest performance he has given. Almost as good in a supporting role is Gary Sinise, playing the crippled army lieutenant who becomes Gump's greatest friend; he lends a pain and reality to a yarn which is constantly in danger of drowning in schmaltz.
The whole film is superbly made. Director Robert Zemeckis follows up his special effects success with Who Framed Roger Rabbit to bring off new technological miracles, enabling Gump to hold conversations with three US Presidents and John Lennon. Woody Allen did the same sort of thing in Zelig; but here it's more technologically ambitious, and funnier. Just as effective, though not as ostentatious, is the mastery which goes into a classic opening shot, of a symbolic feather being blown - just like our hero - this way and that. And gone are the days when an actor playing an amputee had to tuck one leg up behind him, Long John Silver-style; now, the missing limbs can be deleted electronically.
The film's greatest strength is the shrewd way it reinvigorates old-fashioned moral values. Our hero may not know much, but he knows how to love, thanks to a caring mother (a single parent, played with all the emotional stops out by Sally Field, who may remember ruefully that in Punchline she got to play Hanks's girl-friend). Forrest's childhood sweetheart (Robin Wright) has no such luck, having suffered at the hands of an abusive father. Her only good fortune is that she keeps being saved by Gump, and gets to die from one of those Hollywood illnesses which leave you looking radiantly beautiful even on your death-bed.
So why, although I greatly admired the film, did it leave a nasty taste in my mouth? For a start, Forrest Gump is roughly as truthful about the world of intellectual handicap as The Little Mermaid was about fish. The real-life handicapped may be excused a hollow laugh at Gump's rise to riches; in the real America, a bonanza for a man with his learning difficulties would be a low-paid job with inadequate health insurance.In the original novel, Gump's mother tells him "Being an idiot is no box of chocolates". In the movie, this becomes "My mother used to say life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get." Rather different. Sweeter. Less truthful.
It is disturbing to note that Gump only escapes the real fate of his intellectual equals, not through superior moral values or abilities, but through corruption and deceit. His mother prostitutes herself in order to bribe her son's way into a "normal" school. Later, he lies to the public in order to earn the $25,000 which are to turn him into a millionaire. He becomes rich, not as most high-achievers do - through skill, intellect or imagination - but thanks to Acts of God (or screenwriter); Gump's shrimping boat is the only one not to be destroyed in a hurricane, and he absent-mindedly invests in a fruit company, only to discover that he has become a founding father of Apple Computers.
On close inspection, Gump's much-acclaimed moral values look equally suspect. His short hair and 50s dress-sense mark him out from the start as a conservative conformist, rather like the Michael Douglas character who ran amok in Falling Down. Forrest's success in the army is based on blinkered obedience to orders (his superiors', and his girl-friend's). On the one occasion he seems about to come out with a political opinion, at an Anti-Vietnam peace rally, the microphone fortuitously goes dead on him.
The only way we can discover what he really stands for is by examining his polar opposite - his childhood sweetheart, whose troubled background makes her fall prey to hippiedom, the Peace Movement, the Black Panthers, drugs, casual sex and (although the word isn't mentioned) Aids. She sums up the rebelliousness of the baby-boom generation; too late in life, she comes to embrace the more conservative, steadfast values of Gump.
This does not strike me as a very useful, or honest,way of portraying recent American history. After all, those who opposed the war in Vietnam had a point. And if life is really like a box of chocolates, it's better to be critical enough to examine the writing on the inside of its lid. The ingredients in this movie have a distinct aftertaste of fudge.
Forrest Gump's admirers have likened him to Candide; but he is more candied, and less candid. Voltaire's hero was a satire on the simplistic notion that cheerfulness and stoicism are enough in the face of the world's cruelties. And by the end, Voltaire's central character abandoned his foolish belief that all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds. In Gump, the idiot hero comes out a winner, simply by luck and spouting the same christmas-cracker platitudes that he did at the start. And America applauds him for it.
The film preaches that anyone can survive disaster with the right attitude - a philosophy that does not exactly bode well for, say, the homeless or disabled. Political problems are real and complex, not ones which can be solved by Gumpist methods - throwing windfall profits around or simply running away. People in the underclass aren't always there because they needed a more positive outlook. Or more southern courtesy. Or stronger family values.
That is why the film left me not merely cold, but chilled. The movie's success offers a harrowing insight into how adult Americans see themselves. Forrest is clearly meant to represent all that's best in the States. And yet the central image is of running - a running away from reality.
"I imagined Norman Rockwell painting the baby boomers."
(Robert Zemeckis)

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