Tom Hanks and the pursuit of truth

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood gentleman and all-round Mr Nice Guy, Tom Hanks, doesn’t take kindly to those in power tinkering with the truth. Which is why his latest film, The Post, couldn’t really be any timelier.

It’s well-known that history has a nasty habit of repeating itself, and yet Tom Hanks’ new film The Post is such a timely reminder of that fact, it’s almost supernatural. “It’s as simple as making a movie based in 1971, yet we may as well be making a movie about what’s happening right now,” Hanks begins. “All this time goes on and nothing really changes.”

Portraying Ben Bradlee, the Executive Editor of The Washington Post, he takes the position of a man who must decide, alongside with the newspapers owner/publisher Katherine Graham (Meryl Streep), whether or not to go public with sensitive information the newspaper obtained, in what later came to be known as The Pentagon Papers. This retelling of true events is an Edward Snowden-like treasure trove of a classified government study relating to the Vietnam War, and just as it rocked America back at the start of the 1970s, so too do we wonder what skeletons lurk in the closets of the current administration.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film offers a thrilling window into an era when the press was under constant assault from those in authority, and where editors were faced with the moral dilemma of either hushing up, or heading to the unemployment office. And while these days the internet age has made information far more accessible, which, an ideal world, would make the truth easier to grasp, the reality is far more complex, as the US government battles media outlets on what President Donald Trump likes to call “fake news”.

Media savvy and with his reputation as a Hollywood icon to protect, the 61-year-old two-time Oscar winner isn’t about to start tearing into the 45th President of The United States. He will, however, give an honest and intelligent comparison between then and now. “What the current administration is doing is maybe subtler than what happened to The Washington Post back then, because if they were to attempt to shut down… if they were to attempt to silence an organisation today, it would be total consternation,” he explains.

“What the current administration is doing is far more insidious in its assault. It’s putting the idea out there, that these are not the truths, and diluting the waters. It’s muddying the waters by delegitimising the truth and this is why when telling the truth in this form, there cannot be a sliver of question, a sliver of doubt. It has to be concrete and entirely encased, because if not, it gives those opportunity to seize upon that and run with it.

“So journalism has to get it right,” Hanks concludes, “because if you get it right, you can’t argue with it. You can have a different opinion, but you can’t argue with it.”

Articulate affable and incredibly likeable, it isn’t hard to understand how Hanks has remained such a big draw for all these years. Indeed, even the doyenne of modern cinema and Hanks’ co-star in the film, Meryl Streep, has only the highest praise for the Forrest Gump star. “He really drives the scenes he’s in and he never makes a mistake. In every scene he’s always word-perfect and finds the right level, which means that you have to step up to match him. He also has the crackling wit and the demanding side of (Ben Bradlee’s) personality that wants more, more, more from everybody, and that’s very sexy,” observes the actress wryly, adding with a smile: “People will be surprised that he has that quality.”

What’s more surprising, is that this is the first time Streep has worked with either Hanks or Spielberg, and arguably the convergence of such tremendous talent drives The Post to very of top of the must-see list. For her part, Streep play formidable publisher Katherine Graham, with grace and verve, allowing both her ferocity and vulnerability to shine through.

A sizeable chunk of the film is devoted to her inner turmoil, as she grapples with her moral obligation to her readership, and the inevitable fallout which could lead to the entire paper’s demise, were she to publish – The New York Times had already been publicly penalised for printing just a small portion of the documents.

Given the political mire currently engulfing global politics, not just that of the US, plus the current fallout over gender equality and sexual harassment cases in Hollywood and, again, beyond, you get the feeling that society perhaps hasn’t progressed as much as it ought to have done. Though just as in the same way that every President doesn’t set out to deceive his nation, so too are there many successful male actors who have always regarded their female contemporaries with the upmost respect, and when asked for his two cents on the hottest topic in Hollywood, Hanks replies humbly:

“I’m coming at it from a different perspective it because I have had many brilliant, direct bosses in Penny Marshall, Amy Pascal, Nora Ephron, Stacey Snider and others. And I’ve had the good fortune of working for these women who have given me my break in my career… who have steered my trajectory.”

And the respect flows down, too – indeed, as the father of four grown-up children, the youngest of which, Truman Theodore, is 22, the California native is well-versed in the ways of the younger generation, and has great faith in them. “There’s a lot to be said, a lot of hope and optimism pinned on the millennial generation. From my personal experience in my own home, they are the generation who have grown up with an intentioned adherence and awareness of equality and, moving forward, I see how their attitude will shape the state of the world and society for the better,” he says proudly. “I have absolutely no doubt about that.”

That said, it would appear his offspring’s social media habits have not yet worn off on Hanks, as he admits to eschewing digital media in favour of “tangible, physical copy”.

“Well, I had every app, every news update bombarding my phone, my computer… and they are constant. And because of the volume coming at me, I never found myself reading anything more than the headlines – no more than a quick scan. And therefore, I was missing the point, missing so much,” he says fervently.

“So now I read The New York Times, cover to cover, every morning. It used to be my morning ritual, technology interfered, and now, I have thankfully gone back. It works for me. I would prefer to be more informed about particular news events, fully informed, rather than knowing about everything but having a shallow understanding.”

This should hardly come as a surprise from a man who is well-known for his vast collection of vintage typewriters. Indeed, so fond is he of the manual device, he wrote a book devoted to them, titled Uncommon Type. And from this we can conclude that just like the typewriter, Hanks is not old fashioned or out of touch, he’s just a rare classic.

Karen Anne Overton 




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