Let’s face it: The idea of a tuxedo-clad Tom Hanks sitting in the Shrine Auditorium as one of the year’s five Best Actor nominees has lost the element of surprise. If the Academy really wanted to acknowledge Hanks this year, it would come up with a new category: Best Unsupported Actor.
Considering Hanks’ popularity — not to mention his track record at the Oscars — it’s easy to overlook the reason why he’s so beloved in the first place: Simply put, we believe him. Whether he’s playing an AIDS-stricken lawyer butting heads with fear and ignorance, or a simpleton with a knack for stumbling into interesting times, Hanks forces us to identify with the Everyman hiding inside his character — the very quality that draws Hanks himself to the movies. ”You’re sitting in the audience and no matter who you are, you can picture yourself in that situation,” he says. ”That’s the thing that movies do really well.”
It should be enough that in Cast Away, Hanks once again makes us forget he’s Hanks. And yet, at the same time, the actor risks digging up something completely fearless and new. As Chuck Noland, a harried Federal Express troubleshooter whose plane crashes, leaving him stranded for years on a deserted island, he’s an actor working without the safety net of other actors. For the middle hour of Robert Zemeckis’ convention-wary film, Hanks furiously fights off hunger, thirst, and the insanity of loneliness. To convey his Job-like struggle, he relies on the subtle play of his haunted eyes, the shift of expressions on his haggard face, the resilience of a scarred and sun-beaten body stripped of more than 50 pounds, and a volleyball named Wilson.
Oh, and by the way, should Hanks walk to the podium on March 25, he’ll stand alone again — as the only three-time Best Actor winner in Oscar history.