Directed by Robert Zemeckis and based on the book by Winston Groom, Forrest Gump follows the life of an Alabama native with an IQ of a mere 75, whose entire life is spread against the backdrop of many iconic American events, such as JFK, Vietnam, and Watergate. Tom Hanks plays the simple yet lovable titular character, Forrest Gump, and his quest to be with the love of his life, Jenny (Robin Wright).
The film begins in the late 1950’s with a very young Forrest Gump living in Greenbow, Alabama, where he lives with his mother, Mrs. Gump (Sally Field), who always managed to give him memorable phrases to help him out on his life journey, such as “stupid is as stupid does.” When Forrest attends school he quickly falls for Jenny, a young girl from an incredibly abusive background. The two quickly become inseparable and grow up by each other’s side. As they grow up, Forrest finds out that he has a knack for running, which eventually propels Forrest into becoming a great football player, then to a Vietnam hero, and many other great things that he seems to miraculously succeed in.
Even though Forrest has success after success, none of it matters to him. He only cares about the people in his life. It is shown time and time again that he would do anything for Jenny, but regrettably, throughout the course of the film, Jenny goes on a much darker path than Forrest. The beauty of Forrest is that he never loses his innocence, but unfortunately for Jenny, she never had the chance to be innocent. These are some of the most depressing moments in the film, when the audience sees the simplistic view of life through Forrest, in contrast to the frightened eyes of Jenny.
Easily the best part of the film is the performance of Tom Hanks as Forrest. Hanks had already proven his acting talents with films such as Big and Philadelphia, but never before has Hanks demonstrated such believability in delivering such a unique character. Although it sounds like it would be easy for Zemeckis and Hanks to craft an offensive character in Forrest, it never comes to that. Many times, Forrest’s blunders do make for a quick laugh, but just as often, his compassion and innocence brings joy and hope to the audience like no other character in film does.
Another great performance is that of Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan Taylor, or simply “Lieutenant Dan.” Lieutenant Dan serves as Forrest’s platoon leader in Vietnam. Descending from a long line of soldiers who have given their lives in battle, Lieutenant Dan’s life goal is to die while serving in Vietnam. He provides much of the comic relief, but also many moments of cynicism that contrast quite beautifully with Forrest’s optimism.
Something else worth noting in the film is the use of special effects. Often Zemeckis digitally inserts Forrest Gump into real footage taken from archived news reports. Sometimes these effects are groundbreaking, but at other times they are laughable, particularly when Zemeckis uses CGI to dub classic interviews. Although it’s a clever mechanic, it often comes off as silly.
Zemeckis had already directed many other iconic films before Forrest Gump, such as Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the Back to the Future trilogy, and Forrest Gump only solidifies his chops as a filmmaker. With the help of Hanks, Zemeckis is able to create a story that gives audiences a simplistic view of an influential era. Forrest Gump is a strange film that manages to blend heart-breaking drama and irreverent comedy in a seamlessly believable way, and will always be remembered for its quotable dialogue, interesting special effects, and of course, Tom Hanks in the titular role.