Robert Zemeckis, a director known more for brittle, antihumanistic comedy (Used Cars, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her) than heartwarming sentiment, moved into Oscar territory with this accomplished tear-jerking 1994 comedy about a slow-witted southerner (Tom Hanks) living through an alternately auspicious and absurdist half century of American history. There are two forms of innocence that Zemeckis and writer Eric Roth (adapting a novel by Winston Groom) are banking on here—that belonging to Gump himself, pressed into service as a Chaplinesque everyman (which appeals to our jaded palates), and that of the spectator, who is supposed to accept the history of this country reduced to sound bites. The impressive technology brought to bear on this ambitious project combines Zemeckis's fascination with mutilated bodies (Death Becomes Her) with his penchant for cozily recycled history (the Back to the Future films as well as Roger Rabbit), while the ideological agenda of homogenizing culture and rationalizing history into an all-purpose candy bar remains more or less the same. The results are skillful, highly affecting, and ultimately more than a little pernicious. Now that this movie has become one of the top grossers of all time, there are plenty of reasons to suspect that its “stupidity as redemption” message is telling a good many Americans exactly what they want to hear. With Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, and Sally Field.
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