Forrest Gump became an instant classic. Some 19 years later -- aaaahhhh! It's 19 years old!!! -- thanks to an insanely quotable script, great acting, and linear-story bending flashbacks and an almost non-stop replay on TV, it still is and still deserves its status.
Sitting on a park bench, Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is waiting for his bus. A fellow waiting passenger sits down next to him, and Forrest strikes up a conversation. He starts to tell the story of his life dating back to all his childhood memories, all of them right up until the moment that brought him to this bus stop. Raised by a single mom, Mrs. Gump (Sally Field), in rural Alabama, Forrest has an IQ of just 75. He's not mentally challenged, just a little slow, but his lowish IQ isn't going to stop him. Growing up, he meets Jenny, a young girl from a broken home and instantly becomes friends. From kids to adults, Forrest wants nothing more than to be with Jenny (Robin Wright), but their lives seem to be on different paths. What does Forrest's hold? Living in one of the most turbulent times in American history, Forrest's life is destined to be a part of some of America's biggest historical events.
As I watched 'Forrest' last night, a terrifying thought raced through my head. How do I even begin to describe this movie's plot? It basically defies any one-paragraph description because it covers so much ground, introduces so many characters, and does so with a unique storytelling device. For the most part, the story is told via flashback, Forrest sitting on a park bench, talking to a variety of passengers over the course of a couple hours as he waits for his bus. The people come and go, but the story continues on. Then, in the last 30 minutes, Forrest's story takes a step forward as his reasoning for waiting for the bus comes to light. It is a unique device, but it works. The Oscar-winning script from Eric Roth is a gem, the flashbacks working flawlessly, not to mention some great asides -- Forrest's namesake, Lt. Dan's family's military "history" -- fitting in effortlessly. Throw in a soundtrack featuring music from The Doors to Jimi Hendrix and a whole lot of classic songs, and we've got quite the formula.
Where to start though? Well, I think Tom Hanks is a fair place to start. Coming off his Oscar win from 1993 for Philadelphia, Hanks followed it up with....another Oscar-winning performance. Hanks has a career of really good to great performances to his name, but for me, it's easy to peg this one as his best. It's remarkable what he does with the character, avoiding stereotypes and cliches in bringing Forrest to life. He gives him all these great little mannerisms from a walk to putting his hands high on his hips, his very pronounced speech patterns to his little, quick moves that you pick up on multiple viewings. Forrest's IQ is just 75, but he's not mentally challenged in the least. He is smart in many ways, but he's also fiercely loyal, honest to a fault and takes life in stride no matter what's thrown at him. Hanks is phenomenal. His line deliveries are perfect, his inflections bringing these lines to life with that perfect Southern drawl. It has to be one of the most beloved characters in film history, and Hanks deserves every single accolade he got for the part.
Without a doubt, this is Hanks' movie, but part of the fun and enjoyment is meeting all the people that Forrest meets in his life. Wright does a fine job as the love of Forrest's life, Jenny, a young woman who explores all the 1960s and 1970s can offer, sex, drugs and everything in between. With repeated viewings, I've come to like Jenny less and less -- Forrest deserves far better - but Wright makes the character a human being, commendable in itself. Field too is perfect, the ideal mother, a woman who does anything she can to provide for her son. Gary Sinise delivers a career-making performance as Lt. Dan Taylor, Forrest's commanding officer in Vietnam, a relationship that goes far beyond the battlefield. Mykelti Williamson does just the same as Benjamin Buford Blue, or simply, Bubba, Forrest's best friend he meets in basic training before heading to Vietnam together. Also look for a very young Haley Joel Osment (just six years old) in a key supporting role late in the movie.
What's remarkable about the story is how much ground in terms of character development and actual years it covers. Forrest is born in the late 1940s in Alabama so he grows up in the midst of the Civil Rights movement as the deep south goes through the definition of turbulent time. The story is obviously pretty episodic, following Forrest through all the different parts of his life. At different points, he goes to the University of Alabama as a football star, heads to Vietnam as a rifleman in the infantry, develops into one of the world's best ping pong players, becomes a shrimping boat captain, and runs across the United States multiple times among many other smaller things. He meets multiple presents including JFK and Nixon while also being involved in the Watergate scandal, the desegregation at the University of Alabama and meets everyone from a young Elvis Presley to John Lennon. Some cool CGI techniques actually insert Forrest into some footage from the 60s/70s, giving it all a sense of reality and authenticity as the years pass.
It has to be mentioned that this is a script that helped turn 'Forrest' into one of the most quotable movies of all time. Director Robert Zemeckis -- winner of the Oscar's best director that year -- has a gem, a movie with countless memorable scenes. Ask anyone who's seen this movie, and no doubt they can recite at least a handful of lines. Everything from 'Run, Forrest, rrrrrrun!' to 'Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get,' 'My name is Forrest, Forrest Gump' to 'That's all I have to say about that' and everything in between. It works and flows from scene to scene, unifying an episodic story that runs an always entertaining 142-minutes. The story never drags and instead races by, the two-plus hours going by in a flash.
Above all else, I keep coming back to Hanks' performance as Forrest Gump. I rewatched this movie in one viewing recently for the first time in years, and I liked the performance more than ever. He holds all the story together, drama, human emotion good and bad, action, comedy, romance, unifying it all. Forrest has a scene late with Wright's Jenny, talking about all the beauty the world has to offer, a sunset at sea in the Gulf of Mexico, the rain letting up in the Vietnam night, the sun rising in the desert mountains. He talks about the purpose of life, drifting along without a purpose or working toward a destiny. Forrest reasons that maybe life is somewhere in between, finding your own path. It's a beautiful monologue, perfect in its simple honesty. That's the movie. A moving, very emotional, very funny story with great performances and too many great moments to mention.
Forrest Gump (1994): ****/****