Forrest Gump (United States, 1994)

September 05, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Forrest Gump Poster

Since its theatrical release in the summer of 1994, Forrest Gump has become one of those movies seemingly everyone is familiar with. It's a cultural touchstone with lines like "Life is a box of chocolates" appearing everywhere from tee-shirts to greeting cards. The film's popularity was italicized by the way it rampaged through the 1995 Oscars, winning six awards (including the "big three" of Best Picture, Director, and Actor). Now, for its 20th anniversary, the decision has been made to do something Hollywood almost never does during the home video era: a big screen re-release.

How to get people into theaters to watch (or re-watch) Forrest run when it's a lot easier to do it at home? Enter the IMAX gimmick. Calling it anything less crass would be dishonest since there's no inherent reason why Forrest Gump should be bulked up for IMAX (or pseudo-IMAX, depending on how one views the smaller AMC version of the product). Still, commercial considerations aside, there's something majestic about watching this tall tale unfold on a larger screen than one can find in the average family room. The IMAX format is a nice way to entice some viewers to see the movie in a theater while maintaining the original composition.

The original review holds up today because, unlike some decades-old motion pictures, this one doesn't seem dated. It wears its age well. Here's what I wrote in 1994 when the movie was first released:

Ever find the grind of life getting you down? Is the day-to-day struggle threatening to drag you under? If so, there is a movie out there that can replenish your energy and refresh your outlook. Passionate and magical, Forrest Gump is a tonic for the weary of spirit. For those who feel that being set adrift in a season of action movies is like wandering into a desert, the oasis lies ahead.

Back when Tom Hanks' movie career was relatively new, the actor made a film called Big, which told the story of a young boy forced to grow up fast as a result of an ill-advised wish made at a carnival. In some ways, Forrest Gump represents a return to the themes of that earlier movie. In this case, the main character remains a child in heart and spirit, even as his body grows to maturity. Hanks is called upon yet again to play the innocent.

Forrest Gump (Hanks), named after a civil war hero, grows up in Greenbow, Alabama, where his mother (Sally Field) runs a boarding house. Although Forrest is a little "slow" (his IQ is 75, 5 below the state's definition of "normal"), his mental impairment doesn't seem to bother him, his mother, or his best (and only) friend, Jenny Curran (played as an adult by Robin Wright). In fact, the naiveté that comes through a limited understanding of the world around him gives Forrest a uniquely positive perspective on life. Across the span of the next thirty years, Forrest becomes a star football player, a war hero, a successful businessman, and a pop icon. Through it all, however, there is one defining element in his life: his love for Jenny. She is never far from his thoughts, no matter what he's doing or where he is.

A trio of assets lifts Forrest Gump above the average "life story" (melo)drama: its optimism, freshness, and emotional honesty. Though the movie does not seek to reduce every member of the audience to tears, it has moments whose power comes from their simplicity. Equally as important is laughter, and Forrest Gump has moments of humor strewn throughout.

During the 60s and 70s, no topic more inflamed the turbulent national consciousness than that of Vietnam and those who were sent overseas to fight. Forrest, as might be expected, has a singular viewpoint on his time spent there: "We took long walks and were always looking for this guy named Charlie." This observation emphasizes the essence of the title character's nature.

Through the miracle of visual effects, Forrest meets his fair share of famous people - George Wallace, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and John Lennon. While mixing the real footage of these notables with new images featuring Hanks is not a seamless process, the result is nevertheless effective. (This is a precursor of what would become commonplace in future films as the effects work employed here became refined.)

Forrest Gump has several messages, few of which require much digging into the subtext to unearth. The most frequently recurring theme is an admonition not to give up on life. Why surrender when you don't know what lies ahead? By contrasting Forrest's life with the lives of those around him, and by showing how the passage of time brings solace to even the most embittered hearts, the movie underlines this point.

Tom Hanks won 1994's Academy Award for Philadelphia, but his performance here is more nuanced. [With Forrest Gump, he would become only the second man to win back-to-back Lead Actor Oscars, joining Spencer Tracy.] The Alabama accent may seem a little awkward at first, but it doesn't take long for the acting to dwarf the twang. Hanks fashions a human character free of guile and deceit, and barely able to comprehend a concept like evil. Robin Wright gives the best performance of her career, surpassing what she accomplished in The Playboys. Looking and seeming like a younger Jessica Lange, she is believable as the object of Forrest's undying affection. The scene-stealer, however, is Gary Sinise. A renowned stage director and actor, Sinise is probably best known to film-goers (to the extent that he is known at all) for his portrayal of George in 1992's Of Mice and Men (which he also directed). In this movie, his portrayal of Lieutenant Dan Taylor is riveting. The passion and pain he brings to the middle portions of Forrest Gump hold together some of the film's weaker moments.

The soundtrack boasts a variety of sounds of the era - perhaps too wide a variety. Often, music can be useful in establishing a mood, but Forrest Gump rockets into the realm of overkill. There are sequences when the choice of song is inspired (the use of "Running on Empty" for Forrest's "long run" comes to mind), but the soundtrack could have used a little pruning. There are times when it seems as much designed to sell CDs as to cement the setting.

Ultimately, however, any such gripes about Forrest Gump are minor. This is a marvelous motion picture -- a mint julep on a hot summer's afternoon.

Forrest Gump (United States, 1994)

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field
Screenplay: Eric Roth based on the novel by Winston Groom
Cinematography: Don Burgess
Music: Alan Silvestri
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Ranked #6 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 1994
Run Time: 2:22
U.S. Release Date: 1994-07-06
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Drugs, Nudity, Violence, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1