Five lesser-known Tom Hanks films you won’t want to miss

The entertaining new post-apocalyptic movie “Finch”—starring Tom Hanks—is currently available only on Apple TV.

For PULSE readers who don’t have that service, here are five other lesser-known Hanks films to keep an eye out for:

NOTHING IN COMMON (1986)

Writer-director Garry Marshall had extraordinary success on TV—as creative force behind “The Odd Couple,” “Mork & Mindy,” “Laverne & Shirley” and “Happy Days.”

He enjoyed solid sales on the big screen as well, with such hits as “Runaway Bride,” “The Princess Diaries” and of course, the Julia Roberts-Richard Gere smash “Pretty Woman.” But while I don’t care much for that latter of title, the early Hanks gem “Nothing in Common” is just terrific—Marshall’s one claim to cinematic greatness.

In a role that proved a key transition from comedies to more serious films, Hanks plays David Basner, a hotshot Chicago ad-man whose parents’ marriage hits the skids just about the same time Dad’s diabetes takes a turn for the worst. Initially shallow and narcissistic, Basner has to step up—especially for his father; and in the process, he becomes a very different sort of person.

Excellent cast includes Eva Saint-Marie (as Mom), Sela Ward, Barry Corbin, Bess Armstrong and Hector Elizondo (the latter has featured in every one of Marshall’s films). Jackie Gleason is brilliant as Basner’s selfish but very needy father; it’s beyond me how “The Great One” failed to score an Oscar nom for this last film in his distinguished career.

118 min. Rated PG for pretty strong sexuality (should be PG-13).

ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)

An unsung masterpiece, “Road to Perdition” remains my quintessential “best movie you never saw.” After catching it in theaters, I was sure “RTP” had a shot at the Best Picture; but for some reason, it never caught on.

Perhaps folks couldn’t accept Hanks as a hitman—though for all his gun-toting toughness, the actor certainly makes Mike Sullivan likable enough.

He’s a henchman for a Depression-era crime syndicate near Chicago. When Sullivan’s 12-year-old son witnesses a hit, the mob goes after his family, forcing Sullivan and son to take to the road—where they become 20th-century Robin Hoods, vengefully nailing banks in which Capone stashes dirty money.

Everything about this film is top-notch: direction by Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Skyfall,” “1917”); meticulous production design; one of my all-time favorite musical scores, by the brilliant Thomas Newman; and then there’s that cast: Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stanley Tucci … and, as the boy, a young Tyler Hoechlin—later more famous for TV’s “Teen Wolf” and “Supergirl.”

Topping it all off is Oscar-winning cinematography by lensing legend Conrad Hall. You won’t soon see finer photography anywhere.

And you won’t soon see a better film than this, either!

117 min. Rated R for some language and violence.

CLOUD ATLAS (2012)

How would you like to see Hanks with aboriginal face-paint?  Or playing a buck-toothed quack doctor? Or an expletive-spouting Welsh murderer?

How ’bout the equally likable Hugh Grant as a savage cannibal? Or Hugo Weaving as a woman?

“Cloud Atlas” has all this and more; the terms courageous and original come readily to mind.

The film was written and directed by Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”) and the Wachowskis, siblings who gave us “The Matrix”; this creative triumvirate was apparently necessary to manage a three-hour epic with six storylines spanning five centuries: 

There’s a 19th-century sailing ship, a troubled composer, a reporter investigating corruption in the nuclear-power business, an aging publisher trapped in a prison-like nursing home, a rebellion in 22nd-century Seoul and a tribe of post-apocalyptic survivors in the far-distant future.

Most of the major players have a role in each storyline; besides Hanks, Weaving and Grant, these include Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent.

This engaging film shifts rapidly but smoothly between plot-strands, while we are only slightly distracted by trying to spot the actors in each one—no mean feat considering the astonishing make-up that, in one segment, makes Hanks a nerdy seventies scientist and in another, a grizzled old man with tattoos and horrific facial scars.

The film is marred by clunky writing that includes a ludicrous dialect for the post-apocalyptic timeline; and at 172 minutes, it is also far too long. Yet despite its length and occasional absurdity, it’s a startlingly ambitious piece of filmmaking.

172 min. Rated R for language, violence and sexuality.

NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020)

In this beautifully filmed and scored Western—Hanks’ only entry in that genre—the star plays a Civil War veteran who roams the countryside reading newspapers aloud to illiterate and info-hungry settlers. Before long, Kidd takes under his wing an abducted white girl he found as sole survivor after her Kiowan captors were massacred.

The storyline relies too heavily on standard Western tropes, but one early gunfight between Kidd and three better-armed men is brilliantly executed by the skilled action director Paul Greengrass (“Captain Phillips,” “United 93,” several Bourne movies).

And as for those visuals: Veteran cinematographer Dariusz Wolski makes marvelous use of natural light, sprawling New Mexico locales and a smoothly active camera that is always on the move to track Kidd’s trek.

Best of all, the film’s final act handsomely fills in some frustrating earlier holes in the plot; and then, when Kidd finally settles on his destiny, it feels almost breathtaking in its fitness and closure—after which the script caps it off with the symbolic newspaper account of a man who miraculously returned from the dead.

118 min. Rated PG-13 for violence and some language.

ASTEROID CITY (2022)

Fans of Hanks—and of idiosyncratic filmmaker Wes Anderson—will be eager for this one, Anderson’s forthcoming follow-up after his well-received “French Dispatch,” which is currently in theaters.

Writer-director behind such cult-faves as “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Isle of Dogs,” Anderson has a penchant for sprawling, tasty casts with lots of big names—and “Asteroid City” is no different: Besides Hanks, look for Margot Robbie, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Bryan Cranston, Jeffrey Wright, Liev Schreiber, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Matt Dillon, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

But good luck getting any info on the plot!


Smith is a writer, teacher and public speaker in Central PA. His latest book, “The Best Movies You Never Saw: 300 Under-the-Radar Films That Were Overlooked, Unjustly Trashed—or Just Plain Terrific,” is available at Amazon. He can be reached at robbwhitefan@gmail.com

Author

  • Smith is a writer, speaker and teacher in Central Pennsylvania. His fourth book, "The Best Movies You Never Saw," is due out this summer. More info is available at josephwsmithiii.com -- or robbwhitefan@gmail.com.

Joseph W. Smith III

Smith is a writer, speaker and teacher in Central Pennsylvania. His fourth book, "The Best Movies You Never Saw," is due out this summer. More info is available at josephwsmithiii.com -- or robbwhitefan@gmail.com.

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