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And more damnable still, the actor has lately shown signs of reaching outside his comedy-saves-world shtick to undertake dour, straight roles which, in addition to not being funny, are also California Personal Growth and Inwardness creepy as in What Dreams May Come, starring Williams as a family man wandering the afterlife like a husband lost in Bloomingdales looking for his dead wife and children. Re-inventing himself as a father and as a husband, Williams uses heaven as a really intense form of therapy to sort out some of the "issues" he didn't attend to on Earth. In Dreams the lesson seems to be that you create your own reality -- as every thought and wish transforms Williams' visible world. It's a very therapy-oriented view, and the kind of individualism-melded-to-healing positivity that defines Williams' touchy-feely oeuvre.
While Williams plays the ethereal, gravity-can't-fetter-my-dreams holy ghost, Mel Gibson is the proverbially grounded patriarch whose boots of obligation, guilt and love are made of lead. Gibson has made his most recent foray into über-daddydom with The Patriot, which begins in typical form with an ambivalent, flawed hero unwilling to bear arms in the American Revolution, but who begins to see things differently when his family members are picked off by the monstrously coiffed British. Gibson rose to fame avenging the deaths of his wife and child in Mad Max and has yet to stray far from the formula.
The Patriot presents Gibson as an unrepentant rebel. Whether maverick airline C.E.O. in Ransom or warrior in Braveheart, he's a guy who plays by his own rules. Turning the tables on his son's kidnappers in Ransom or leading a ragtag band of militia against the British in The Patriot, Gibson is defined as a consummate nonconformist who will risk his life for higher principles and family, but won't trade his values for anyone.
A family man and unapologetic capitalist, Gibson faces down the union busters and greasy Gen-X kidnappers in Ransom with the über-American opinion, "I built Endeavor from the ground up and it's mine, and no bastard's taking it away from me -- no union, no government." There's reason to believe, with the actor's own brood of seven children, that for Gibson, such roles are a reaffirmation of his self-image, as with the daddy protecting his motherless brood of seven in The Patriot. "I'm a parent, I haven't got the luxury of principals," Gibson declares as his rationale for staying out of the Revolutionary War, a mantra repeated in the daddy-gets-mad thriller Ransom in which "any means necessary" defines his quest to liberate his son from a bunch of scuzzy kidnappers. But he's not merely any daddy, in role after role Gibson has crafted himself into a super-daddy driven too far and forced to use violence in revenge stories that make home and family nothing short of a holy war.
While Gibson works the patriarch angle, Tom Hanks has in recent years become Jimmy Stewart's successor as favorite son -- beginning with his vulnerable boy/man of Big, a role that foreshadowed the boyish vulnerability that has since accounted for no small part of Hanks' charm. A genius at picking film roles that become consensus-building, popular hits, Hanks has played roles that range from manipulative and superficial to more nuanced, carving out a niche as America's boy wonder. In recent roles such as Saving Private Ryan and The Green Mile, Hanks has changed into a more experienced, older softie, though that air of childlike goodness clings, transforming any role he plays into something of a moral cause, of innocence battling corruption.
On one hand you have the racists, the homophobes, the retard-bashers, the mean kids, the sadists, the disingenuous peaceniks. And on the other, Hanks and his attendant seraphim co-stars. In a large number of these three actors' bodies of work, women play a significant role. They're either absent from the scene altogether, or they're cancer victims, incest victims, murder victims. This invests not the women with greater depth and humanity, but rather the men who must carry such grief on their heavy hearts, further ennobling their weighty humanity.
Hanks has proven especially willing to capitalize on his ability to transform questionable subject matter into middle-American digestible chow that makes homosexuality and AIDS in Philadelphia and an anti-capital punishment message in The Green Mile palatable. In a film like The Green Mile you can tell the bad guys by their slack jaws and ceaseless sadistic barrage or in Philadelphia by the homophobic executives' icy, soulless moneyed gleam. Such films elevate Hanks to the celestial higher ground in narratives that divide humanity into two camps: the extremely good and the extremely bad, with Hanks playing moral moderator.
As if to pluck more efficiently at the American audience's desire to side with the underdog while fancying themselves progressive, almost all of Hanks films have a significant part for a benevolent black man, an instant Hollywood armchair liberal shorthand meant to warm the cockles of American audiences who like to fancy themselves colorblind and freethinking. From the shrimp-obsessed Bubba in Gump and the homophobe-turned-homofriend in Philadelphia to the death row Christ surrogate in The Green Mile, these noble black men and their moral proximity to Hanks put the hero on the higher moral ground.
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