The story unfolds in whimsical flashbacks, narrated in a slow-talking southern drawl by a simpleton sitting on a bench. Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) was bom stupid, but his mother (Sally Field) feels he has as much a right to the American Dream as anyone. In fact, Gump does astonishingly well. To escape local bullies, he learns to “run like the wind,” which leads to a football scholarship. He goes on to become a Vietnam War hero, a world Ping-Pong champion and a shrimp magnate.
For the film-makers, however, Gump’s job is to serve as a deadpan witness to history in the making. With serendipitous timing, he keeps showing up on the scene of important events. And through computer doctoring of archival clips, director Robert Zemeckis shows Gump making small talk with luminaries ranging from John Lennon to John F. Kennedy. The movie unfolds as a montage of
baby boom experience: Elvis, assassinations, Vietnam, hippies, Black Panthers, the moon landing, Watergate, cocaine, AIDS. All the hits of the ’60s, 70s and ’80s. No touchstone is left unturned.
But the narrative is so programmed it is like watching software. Forrest Gump is a medley of sound bites—clever, cute, amusing, silly, sentimental—and irritatingly
phoney. Meanwhile, to underscore every shift in the action, Zemeckis has assembled a sound track of vintage pop songs with plodding literalism.
Zemeckis, the special-effects wizard who directed Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, often overpowers his actors. Hanks is endearing as Gump, and Gary Sinise valiantly tries to stay real as his Vietnam buddy, Lt. Dan, who loses his legs in combat But as Jenny, Gump’s heartthrob, Robin Wright gets lost in a whirlwind of costume changes as her character keeps step with the times by becoming a folksinger, a stripping hippie, a radical and a drug addict.
The movie strikes an odd balance between novelty and formula Zemeckis sets about healing wounds with an Oliver-Stone-lite version of the modem American tragedy. Through Gump’s uncomprehending eyes—shades of Dustin Hoffman’s autistic hero in Rain Man— he renders it meaningless. As an exercise in high-powered manipulation, the movie works: audiences may find it irresistible. But Forrest Gump is, quite literally—to quote Shakespeare—“a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
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