Film Discussion

The Post’s Spielberg and Hanks: A 20 Year Collaboration

In 1998, back-to-back two-time Oscar-winner, Tom Hanks, collaborated with Steven Spielberg, the superstar director boasting a catalogue of blockbusters from Jaws to Schindler’s List, in Saving Private Ryan – an epic-scale WW2 film that some consider being the greatest war film of both the modern day and all time. But Saving Private Ryan was just the start of the Hanks-Spielberg collaboration…

The 20 year actor-director collaboration between Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg is far from prolific as the likes of Martin Scorsese’s collaborations with Robert De Niro and later, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Alfred Hitchcock with James Stewart. A fine aspect of the Hanks-Spielberg collaboration, however, is that it is arguable that both performer and practitioner have collaborated together in the post-prime of their respective careers, though Saving Private Ryan has often been cited among respective fandom to be that last great film in their respective film careers. This belief among fandom is slightly flawed though, as in 2005, Steven Spielberg – without Tom Hanks’ acting – directed and produced the Oscar-nominated Munich, a film of which other fandoms consider to be Steven Spielberg’s comeback movie after Saving Private Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan presented Tom Hanks in his most serious role since 1993’s Philadelphia, whilst Saving Private Ryan also presented Steven Spielberg’s most serious directorial vision since 1993’s Schindler’s List. Saving Private Ryan’s early sequence of the Normandy Invasion presented a gritty realism that wasn’t seen before in the war genre, but would then be replicated in the likes of Black Hawk Down, and the video game, Medal of Honor: Frontline. The sequence became instantly prolific, and in 2001, it was even regarded by some to be the #1 Greatest Movie Moment 

Tom Hanks was cast in the role of Captain Miller, whose mission is to find the title character – played by Matt Damon. Matt Damon’s Private Ryan is the last of four brothers, as the other three were killed in combat.

Into the 21st Century, the Hanks-Spielberg collaboration had produced a second film in the form of 2002’s Catch Me If You Can – a much lighter film than their WW2 predecessor. This time, the new Hanks-Spielberg hit was a biographical drama, something of which had been done extraordinarily successfully by Spielberg a decade prior in Schindler’s List, and then later in his career with the likes of Lincoln.

Catch Me If You Can presented a pre-Scorsese Leonardo DiCaprio as former imposter, Frank Abagnale, during his youthful, law-breaking years. Tom Hanks, however, was placed in a supporting role, on the other side of the fence, as FBI agent Carl Hanratty – a character loosely based upon real-life Special Agent, Joseph Shea. Unlike Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can with its much lighter tone creates a nice concluding resolution for its viewer – a happ-ish ending as such. Something of which is a trait of Steven Spielberg’s career from within his family-friendly adventure film era.

Now there is The Terminal – the great divider of fans – is it good or awful? Again, based upon or influenced by real events, The Terminal was 2004’s airport-based comedy-drama pitting Tom Hanks as Krakozhian (yes, fictional nationality) Viktor Navorski. The Terminal really is the non-Spielberg Spielberg film for the most part, thus essentially, it’s out of character. The Terminal does, however, continue the trend of the subsequent Hanks-Spielberg film presenting a lighter tone than its predecessor. From the likes of Saving Private Ryan, just over five years prior, was Steven Spielberg losing his touch? It is possible to assume so, as subsequent non-Hanks-starred releases included the likes of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Back in The Terminal, Tom Hanks’ Viktor Navorski has fled the war torn Krakozhian and landed in New York’s JFK, however, as his home country is under the trauma of a civil war, the US have ceased to recognise Krakozhian as a state, thus Viktor no longer possesses a valid passport and has no choice but to remain in the airport for the foreseeable future, as he even isn’t allowed to travel back home either. What can Viktor do? Viktor, essentially, befriends a flight attendant (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and acquires a cash-in-hand job whilst waiting for a resolution to both his dilemma and the film itself.

11 years later, the Hanks-Spielberg collaboration was renewed with another war-time-hit, Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks reprised his status as the lead actor in a Steven Spielberg film, but the plaudits went to eventual Oscar-winner, Mark Rylance, for his portrayal of real-life KGB spy, Rudolf Abel. Bridge of Spies presented the story of the legal on-goings and life-risking danger involving real-life lawyer, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks), during the Cold War for the exchange and return of U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell).

Like his previous historically-based films, Steven Spielberg aimed to create a mise-en-scene and ambiance that successfully replicates the time period of which the film is set – in Bridge of Spies’ case, it’s the early 1960s in the US and Europe. Of course, Spielberg’s accuracy has been regarded as a fine “attention to detail”, however, on the other hand it can be read as both “style over substance” and “Oscar-beg” – perhaps Spielberg’s visual style features all three descriptions?

Ultimately, over the twenty years of collaboration, audiences have seen Steven Spielberg direct Tom Hanks as a WW2 hero, FBI agent, country-less tourist, Cold War lawyer, and now in The Post – another historical, based on true events film – the executive editor of The Washington Post newspaper during the Nixon years in the US.

What next for the Hanks-Spielberg collaboration? We do not know yet, however, be sure to expect a story that is so finely created to establish a realistic and true image, that will have you immersed to a point where you will think the picture was capture during the time of which the film was set.

The Post is now on general release.

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