Tom Hanks: 5 Shades of Grey

We all know the legendary actor as The Nice Guy. On his birthday, we celebrate five roles that saw Tom Hanks going over to the dark side
Tom Hanks: 5 Shades of Grey

Tom Hanks turns 66 today and since he made his debut with a minor role in the horror film He Knows You're Alone, the celebrated actor has had a long-spanning, versatile career. He's played a romantic hero in You've Got Mail, an outfoxed FBI agent in Catch Me If You Can, the American journalist Ben Bradlee in The Post and an earnest, gentle man in Forrest Gump. And yet, for all the range that he's displayed over the years, it is hard to imagine him as the villain because he almost never plays the bad guy. In the words of America's Dad himself, "I recognised in myself a long time ago that I don't instill fear in anybody." This was, of course, before he essayed the role of the diabolical Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis, released this year. While malevolence might not be Hanks's cup of tea, roles with moral ambiguity certainly are.

Eamon Bailey in The Circle (2017)

This tech thriller explored state surveillance, its convenient disaffirmation by those in power and our complacency towards it. The Circle is a leading technology company that values "the best selves of human beings" and they do so by creating products that encroach on people's privacy in the name of helping them achieve their best behaviour. In the circus that is The Circle, Hanks's Eamon Bailey is the righteous ringmaster. Ostensibly, Bailey seems like a smart, affable, charismatic guy who is also a devout Christian — he's like many of the all-American heroes Hanks has played in his career — but scratch the surface, and you realise that he's dangerously deluded. He is charming and benevolent, until he isn't. Trust Hanks to find a way to make villainy feel amiable. 

You can watch The Circle on Netflix.

Dermot Hoggins, The Hotel Manager, Dr. Goose in Cloud Atlas (2012)

With a multi-plot, multi-era narrative, this Wachowski directorial showed Hanks in many roles – including some rogue ones. Like the doctor who pretends to cure a man only to try and slowly poison him in order to steal his gold (the man's motto is literally: "The weak are meat; the strong do eat"). Or the hotel manager who extorts a waistcoat (in the absence of money) from a man hiding from the authorities. Our favourite, though, is the unhinged author Dermot Hoggins who, in a fit of rage and humiliation, throws a critic off a balcony – in view of about 100 wine-sipping guests. As the man's body splatters onto the pavement, Hoggins peeks over the balcony to say, "Now that's an ending that's flat and inane beyond belief," repeating the critic's words back to his lifeless body. 

Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis (2022) 

In the latest Oscar-nominated film Elvis, Hanks plays what might be his most decisively-villainous role: Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager who was also an illegal immigrant. Hanks described Colonel Tom Parker, who narrates the film, as "a diabolical genius in every way". Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Elvis uses as a prism the singer's relationship with his infamously predatory and scheming manager. The film may aspire to portray Parker as a more complex character than the unidimensional negativity usually ascribed to him, but the fact is that Hanks is on song as the true blue villain of Presley's story.

Michael Sullivan in Road to Perdition (2002)

Michael Sullivan is a loving father, a faithful worker and a man of high principles. He is also a mob enforcer. In this neo-noir period crime drama, Hanks portrayed the conflicted Sullivan who finds himself indebted to the all-powerful mob boss, Rooney, for raising him as his own son after he was orphaned. Everything goes sideways when Sullivan's family is targeted by Rooney's family and the most-feared enforcer of the kingpin's gang turns against him. In a role with many shades of grey, Hanks carries the paradox of his character's ethical nature with tremendous grace: the principles that make him an honest man are the same ones that keep him bound to a life of crime. The film is peppered with scenes that bring this conflict to the forefront, like when Hanks as The Nice Dad we all know teaches his 12-year-old son to become a getaway driver.  

Road to Perdition is available to watch on Disney+ Hotstar.

Professor G. H. Dorr in The Ladykillers (2004) 

Known as one of the "low-tier" projects of the Coen Brothers, The Ladykillers is a black comedy crime thriller revolving around a band of bumbling, hapless thieves who need to kill an old lady because she had witnessed them commit a bank robbery. Their leader is the smooth-talking Professor G. H. Dorr, played by Hanks. Admittedly, this character is hardly a conniving evil genius, but the Professor does have a sly manipulative streak and he is the face of the criminals' operation. 

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