In Tom Hanks's most famous roles, he reminds everyone that America has made some terrible mistakes, but, in the end, the wisdom of the American people comes through and the idea of America always wins. Clint Eastwood would have ruined Steven Spielberg's vision of World War II in Saving Private Ryan (1998). The D-Day invasion in the opening of the movie is brutal. American soldiers commit war crimes. The presence of Hanks assures us that those war crimes were necessary, and that even if they weren't, they were not what America really is or ever has been. The opening half hour of Spielberg's Bridge of Spies (2015) captures the weirdness of Cold War paranoia -- weird Spielberg is the best Spielberg -- but Hanks is there to remind the good people of America that civil liberties are really important. In the long run, America listens.
Hanks's turn last night on SNL as a paranoid Trump supporter is John Wayne in The Searchers (John Ford, 1956). Hanks's Trumpie is not a bad guy. He's uncomfortable around black people, but not really mean to them. He's capable of shaking their hand, albeit with a lot of hesitation. The black people on stage grow to like him as they discover the commonalities in their lifestyle and world views. They're all a bit paranoid of the police state. They all love Tyler Perry movies. Hanks's Trumpie eventually returns their affection. Still, the creepiness of the conservatism that lies underneath Hanks's roles in Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994), Saving Private Ryan, Catch Me If You Can (Spielberg, 2002), and Bridge of Spies is all there. Just as John Wayne's Ethan Edwards finally takes Wayne's persona too far, slaughtering buffalo just to spite the Indians, shooting out the eyes of an Indian corpse while knowing and enjoying the significance of such unnecessary cruelty, Hanks's Trumpie finally crosses the line. You like my unpretentiousness, Hanks winks at the audience. Well, here I am making someone you've been taught to hate as a neo-fascist look as cute, sweet, and decent as Forrest Gump. You like me, even though you know I'm capable of kicking a Muslim woman at a rally and spitting on the Mexicans. You like me and you're almost willing to forgive me, because you know some part of you is me.
Hanks was wonderful in those '80s comedies no one watches anymore, and on his perennial appearances on SNL. It would be nice to see him use that showman talent to transform his persona. Maybe late-period Hanks could discover the nastiness in small-c American conservatism.