Where Does Otto Rank Among Tom Hanks’ Grumpiest Characters?
Hollywood can’t get enough of iconic actors revealing a different side of their persona. Look no further than lovable goofball Brendan Fraser, probably best known for Encino Man and the Mummy movies, who could win an Oscar being serious in The Whale. Over and over again, we’re astounded when comics go dark — or when tortured thespians try to lighten up — but sometimes the shift can be subtler. Take Tom Hanks, an industry institution for decades. He’s done funny, and he’s done dramatic, but even those latter roles find him portraying honorable, inspirational figures. You don’t expect Hanks to play a straight-up sonuvabitch.
That’s why his newest film might seem like a radical change of pace. In A Man Called Otto, based on a Swedish novel that was adapted into the 2015 film A Man Called Ove, he’s a total crank. Otto Anderson lives alone, snarls at anyone who crosses his path and generally doesn’t want to be bothered. (He might as well be the human embodiment of The Simpsons’ “Old Man Yells at Cloud” joke.) That Otto is also mourning the death of his wife helps explain his curmudgeon-like behavior — and also why he occasionally tries (and fails) to commit suicide.
But as much as the ads attempt to sell A Man Called Otto as “Tom Hanks gets grumpy!,” the movie is really a feel-good comedy-drama in which Otto quickly learns to embrace life again. If you were hoping to see the Oscar-winner really go all MAGA misanthropic, forget it: As is often the case, Hanks’ character is, deep down, a teddy bear.
Still, this got me thinking: Has Tom Hanks ever played a grump before? And if so, what is the grouchiest Tom Hanks character?
Going back through his filmography, I’ve isolated his 10 surliest portrayals, and figured out where A Man Called Otto ranks among them. Not surprisingly, dramas outnumber comedies on this list, but I’d argue that some of his most indelible performances — and some of his funniest — are also the crankiest. It’s a tribute to Hanks’ range and talent that he can be grumpy funny or grumpy serious. Let us pay tribute to his most memorable crabapples.
Chuck Noland in Cast Away
I mean, wouldn’t you be a little cranky if you ended up stranded on a desert island? An attempt to create a realistic survival film — production was put on hold midway so Hanks could lose a ton of weight to simulate what his character would look like after being marooned for years — Cast Away follows FedEx employee Chuck Arnold across a range of emotions. After he barely escapes a plane crash, this obsessively organized man will slowly surrender his control-freak tendencies as he learns to live close to the natural world and says goodbye to the globe-trotting existence he once enjoyed.
That transition isn’t easy, though, and Hanks articulates Chuck’s rage at having everything stripped away from him — although that anger is mixed with sorrow and helplessness, too. It’s a multidimensional performance about someone who thinks he’s got his life all figured out, only to discover how painful and infuriating (but also liberating) it is to be proven wrong.
Krause in Greyhound
Hanks has several dad movies on his résumé, but this World War II flick might be the daddiest. He plays Krause, the commander of a Navy vessel leading a convoy across the Atlantic, facing fierce seas and heavy enemy fire. Greyhound isn’t much interested in character backstory or emotional shading, instead offering wall-to-wall battle sequences. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Krause tends to be pretty grouchy — being in constant danger will do that to a guy — but it’s fun to see Hanks doing the grizzled-wartime-leader thing. Of course, there’s a better — and even grumpier — World War II character he portrayed that will be showing up later on this list.
Otto in A Man Called Otto
Superficially, Otto seems like a Grumpy Gus. He hates his neighbors. He can’t stand animals. He doesn’t like hybrid cars or anything that’s fashionable. All of this allows Hanks to activate his gravelly, barking voice — the one that sounds like he’s smoked 500 cigarettes and is nursing a hangover. Indeed, the whole point of A Man Called Otto is that it’s presumably novel to see America’s Favorite Actor playing a sourpuss, but you rarely believe that Otto truly is a wretched human being. (He’s not that bad of a guy: He’s just grieving his dead wife, you see.) Perhaps that emotional backstory makes Otto more sympathetic, but it removes the fun of watching Hanks tear into people. Ultimately, Hanks is just too nice of a dude — imagine someone like, say, Tommy Lee Jones in the role, and you see how much more spectacularly crotchety Otto could have been.
Colonel Tom Parker in Elvis
A schemer, an opportunist, a showman: The man who dubbed himself Tom Parker gained immortality by becoming the manager for Elvis Presley, helping to guide the singer’s path to superstardom. Last year’s exuberant, exhausting biopic of the King is told from Parker’s poisonous perspective, with Hanks affecting a bizarre accent as the disgraced, dying music manager out to settle some scores. It’s one of his least-subtle performances: Hanks lets it rip as this condescending, bitter mogul, who was determined to control Elvis, even as his protégé begins to extricate himself. Buried in makeup and prosthetics, Hanks’ Parker is meant to be a hideous figure, and the actor makes him as unpleasant on the inside. Forget grumpy: His Parker is an evil monster.
Dermot Hoggins in Cloud Atlas
This is just one of several roles Hanks plays in the ambitious, century-spanning sci-fi epic. If you don’t recall, Dermot Hoggins is the British gangster in the present day who’s written a novel, Knuckle Sandwich, that hasn’t gotten great reviews. An ill-tempered thug, Hoggins has a thin skin, which he demonstrates by hurling a critic off the balcony of his book party — a scandal that, ironically, only juices his sales. Throughout Cloud Atlas, Hanks is clearly having a bit of a laugh, enjoying portraying such extreme characters, but Hoggins is the snottiest of the bunch, a truly toxic human being whose heart seems to be about 10 sizes too small. Sometimes when Hanks plays grumps, deep down you know the characters are actually sweethearts. That’s not the case with ol’ Hoggins, who would just as likely kill you as look at you.
Scott Turner in Turner & Hooch
It’s very possible that no Hanks character has ever been as annoyed with anyone as Turner is with Hooch, the slobbering dog who becomes our cop hero’s unlikely partner. Put together through tragedy — Hooch was owned by one of Turner’s friends, who’s been murdered — they immediately do not hit it off, resulting in scenes of Hanks losing his mind at this pooch’s gross behavior. (Naturally, Turner is super-neat.) The ultimate 1980s buddy-cop, odd-couple comedy, Turner & Hooch was a capper on Hanks’ wild-and-crazy comedy decade, marking the end of an era that would soon be replaced by more dramatic fare. But he blows his top in fine fashion here — even though, wouldn’t you know it, Turner and Hooch eventually become great buds.
Woody in Toy Story
Because Toy Story is such a beloved franchise — arguably the greatest thing Pixar ever gave the world — it’s easy to forget that in the 1995 original, Woody is actually a bit of a pill. Long secure in his position as Andy’s favorite toy, he’s instantly threatened by the arrival of Buzz Lightyear, who’s far cooler and more sophisticated — even if the poor guy thinks he’s actually real. Much of Toy Story involves Woody being jealous of Buzz, who’s also an instant hit among the other toys, and secretly trying to undermine him. In due course, they’ll form a bond, but not before Woody pouts and whines, unhappy with losing his alpha status. Who knew toys could be so surly?
James B. Donovan in Bridge of Spies
Hanks has played lots of heroes, but never one as persnickety as the main character of Steven Spielberg’s underrated Oscar-winner. James Donovan is a 1950s lawyer who deals in insurance, but at the height of the Cold War he’s recruited to defend an accused spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the assumption being that Donovan won’t try too hard to get the turncoat off. But Donovan doesn’t like to be told what to do — and he sure as hell doesn’t like the U.S. government ignoring the Constitution.
Hanks is terrific as the gruff, noble Donovan, who rides through Bridge of Spies not like a white knight but, rather, a by-the-book attorney who doesn’t suffer fools. Refusing to let his client be railroaded, even if he’s a spy, Donovan is an almost James Stewart-like figure of everyday decency. Not that Donovan is too proud of himself: He’s just a guy doing his job, navigating this true-life thriller’s third act while battling a nasty cold. It’s a funny additional wrinkle in a film that’s all about the modest heroism needed to protect due process and American liberty. If you’re in a fix, you need a grumpy, unsmiling champion like Donovan.
Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan
His soldiers wonder who the hell he was before the war. As far as they’re concerned, he’s just Captain John H. Miller, their tough-as-nails commanding officer who’s leading them through hell during World War II, their mission to rescue some guy named Ryan since his brothers have already been killed in the fighting.
By the late 1990s, Hanks had already graduated from lightweight comic actor to two-time Oscar-winner, but he found another gear as Saving Private Ryan, playing a no-nonsense military man who, we’ll discover, was actually just an ordinary school teacher before he was shipped off to defeat the Nazis. But combat has changed the guy, and Hanks plays him as a hardened, exhausted man who’s got little patience for the immature bullshit of those he’s been tapped to lead. There’s none of that wide-eyed idealism we’d come to expect from Hanks: Miller isn’t putting up with anything, and you feel his steeliness in every scene.
Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own
One of Hanks’ breakout roles was in Big, where he played the adult version of a precocious kid who gets his wish to be a grownup. He reunited with that film’s director, Penny Marshall, for A League of Their Own, the fact-based sports comedy about a women’s baseball league that was established during World War II. And here, he portrayed somebody a lot less endearing. Jimmy Dugan is a drunk and a jerk who’s all washed-up until he’s given the chance to manage one of the women’s teams — a job he considers insulting, except he needs the work.
Perhaps Hanks’ most famous cranky-guy line comes from this film — “There’s no crying in baseball!” — and Jimmy is basically an asshole throughout, berating the players, hating his life and getting wasted any chance he can. Of course, because it’s a Tom Hanks role, eventually Jimmy will reveal his softer side. Nonetheless, A League of Their Own remains a masterclass of hilarious orneriness. Hanks has probably never had more fun being a dick.