Peter Bart was a reporter at The New York Times and Wall Street Journal before becoming an executive at Paramount in the 1960s. He was there in the Robert Evans years when the studio turned itself around with such hits as Love Story (1970) and The Godfather (1972). In the late 1980s Bart became editor-in-chief at Variety, and stayed at there for two decades.
"Is Tom Hanks Trapped In His Jimmy Stewart Persona?"
We like to compare stars of today with stars of the past, and the Stewart/Hanks connection makes sense--both beloved names for many years and noted for playing All-American, basically decent men.
But the particulars of Bart's argument are bizarre. The question in the headline itself poses a false dilemma. Jimmy Stewart had one of the greatest careers ever in movies, and Tom Hanks isn't far behind, so neither seem trapped.
Here's Bart's characterization of Stewart:
There's so much wrong here I don't know where to begin. For one thing, Stewart's "era"? He came up in the mid-1930s--the heart of the studio era--but then took off several years for World War II. When he returned, he grabbed the reins of his own career, choosing his projects and becoming one of the first stars to demand a percentage of the gross. He was a big name throughout the late 40s and 50s, and continued making films in the 60s and 70s, well after the studio era, even as his stardom waned.
As for male co-stars, except at the beginning of his career, Stewart was generally the one big name in his films. He first appeared with John Wayne in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) when his best year were behind him and the studio system was essentially dead. He appeared with Cary Grant in one film, The Philadelphia Story (1940), where both were there more to prop up Katharine Hepburn. As for George C. Scott, Stewart appeared with him in Anatomy Of A Murder (1959)--at the time Scott was an unknown and being in a major film with Stewart was a big break for him, not Stewart.
Here's what Bart says about Hanks:
Still, Hanks has not had the benefit of a studio machine behind him as Stewart had, and hence has regularly hit speed bumps. Films like Larry Crowne and The Thing You Do have apparently reminded him that his talents resided in acting, not directing. In recent years the Hanks name has appeared on curious projects such as A Hologram For The King – movies that would suggest he gets bored when not working.
Once again, where to start?
First, as established, Stewart's post-WWII leading man career had him appearing in films he generally chose, and ones where he usually he carried the movie, so the basic premise is false.
As for the speed bumps, they happen in any lengthy career. Stewart certainly had his share of flops. And I should add a lot of people like That Thing You Do!. I prefer it to a lot of Hanks' hits.
Bart's also troubled that Hanks is stuck playing All-American nice guys, like Stewart did. But Stewart often played characters with serious moral ambiguity. Just look at his Westerns for Anthony Mann, or his Hitchcock films. Though Stewart has the screen image of a nice guy, he often showed an angry streak, and sometimes a fair amount of lust.
But Bart is still worried:
[Hanks] has played essentially the same character in his last few movies — the stolid and stalwart hero in Captain Phillips, in Bridge Of Spies and, now, in Sully, in which he’s the brave pilot who can land on water if not walk on it.
Second, these three films are moneymakers, so if this is a rut, who wouldn't want to be in it? (And yet, when Hanks tries something different like A Hologram For The King, Bart blames him for taking the project.)
Finally, Hanks is still trying new things. His title role in Captain Phillips may be heroic, but the most memorable moment is at the end, when he's rescued and basically suffers a breakdown. Too bad Bart, who mangles the past and has trouble seeing the present, didn't notice.