Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flick of The Day: Forrest Gump

Cinema has always had the power to divide people, from the silent era race baiting of D.W Griffith's The Birth of a Nation to the propaganda film's of Leni Fiefenstahl. In the modern era, there is often a divide between critics and audiences in terms of the relative worth of a film. As the box office success of the Fast and Furious saga attests, critical derision is no barrier to financial reward. Today's flick of the day, Forrest Gump, is a divisive film in its own way. Very much the Marmite of 90's Oscar Winners, you either feel is a banal pop culture confection or a technically brilliant ode to the 20th Century. 
Forrest Gump is a man of limited intellect who achieves more in an eventful life then more worldly individuals could dream of, the film acts as his life story. Tom Hanks deservedly won an Oscar for a compelling performance. Opening with his childhood in small town Alabama, from the cruelty of his fellow schoolchildren to the travails of his childhood sweetheart, Jenny, played by Robin Wright, the film moves along at a cracking pace. Through the wonders of technology, Forrest is inserted into news footage of the day as his life crosses paths with important figures from 20th Century history like JFK, John Lennon and events like Watergate and Vietnam. It is some life, without an inkling of effort Forrest becomes a College football star,  a Vietnam war herospeaks at an anti-war rally at the Washington Monumentdefeats the Chinese at table tennis, and finally opens a profitable shrimping business before deciding to run back and forth across the country for several years.
The real genius of the film is it's nostalgia for the latter half of the last century. There is not an important event in recent American history which Forrest doesn't in some way come across, and the film is carried along by a great soundtrack of the era. From Elvis Presley in his youth, to the classic sixties sounds of The Doors, CCR, et al and the late seventies work of Fleetwood Mac and the disco era. It often feels like a really long episode of Reeling in the Years. This is not to denigrate it, for its enjoyable ride but it does feel a bit too rose tinted at times, driven along by the various philosophies by which Forrest lives his life.

My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

Perhaps as the antithesis of his care free life is the hard living endured by his childhood sweetheart Jenny. Everywhere Forrest lands on his feet, Jenny trips up. After a sexually abusive childhood, and a lifetime of being treated badly by lovers, employers and educators, she falls into the various drug crazes of the era. There is a theory in fact that the film is perhaps the most overtly right wing piece of mainstream cinema ever produced. The care free spirit and folk musician, leads a life of dissolution and succumbs to the AIDS virus, while the war hero, chaste living southerner becomes a millionaire. Draw your own conclusions.
All in all, this is a technically brilliant piece of film-making, with an enjoyable storyline that you can't help but be enchanted by, in my opinion. Led by a fine turn from Hanks, there is some great supporting work from Robin Wright and Gary Sinise. An enjoyable film that won 6 Oscars on its release in 1994, it is well worth a second look.

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