He's smart, wise, experienced, kind, a loving father and attentive husband. He's easy-going but principled. He can be gruff, and impatient, but only because he expects a lot of himself; as a consequence, he's going to expect a lot from others.
He's calm, observant. He can see details and the big picture. In fact, he's seen it all. He never panics, but appreciates the absurdity in a sketchy situation.
Professionally, he's top-shelf. His bosses and co-workers respect him, rely on him. They even take a little advantage of him, because they know he's up for a challenge and he'll do the job others shy away from. He's compassionate but not sentimental.
Above all, he's brave. He cares.
And he's also somewhere north of forty years old.
See, you can't have all those qualities and be much younger than forty. Younger men need time to develop. Professionally, they have to learn their craft. Wunderkinds are great to have around an office, but they're unpredictable. One day they're miracle workers, the next they're in rehab.
A stand-up guy is the definition of who Tom Hanks is in Hollywood. And Mr. Hanks, who comes from the San Francisco Bay Area like me and is a still-handsome 59 years old, makes me proud to be over fifty and proud to be something like a stand-up guy.
In "Bridge of Spies," the stand-up guy is defined by the Russian spy played by Mark Rylance as a "standing man," an unremarkable person in the spy's past who, when beaten by thugs during World War II, "kept standing up."
Tom Hanks does that in his role as James Donovan, mild-mannered attorney by day, high-level secret diplomatic operative in his other life.
"Bridge of Spies" somewhat follows the template of ordinary-fellow-in-extraordinary-circumstances, but with a twist. When Hanks as Donovan is called on to be defense counsel for an accused Russian spy in 1957, the height of the Cold War, he first protests that he's an insurance lawyer, not a spotlight-loving defense attorney superstar.
But from then on, Hanks is nothing short of the James Bond of middle-aged stand-up guys. He takes them all on: prejudiced judges, cynical CIA agents, blustering, popinjay East Germans, savvy, brandy-drinking Russian hostage negotiators. He even is able to handle his wife, the magnificent, hard-as-nails Amy Ryan.
My favorite scene is where he "gives a message" to a young East German secretary to give to his boss who has just broken an appointment with Hanks. Instead of lamenting that the boss disrespected him, he plays on the young man's vanity and self-importance to launch a more effective salvo than he might have if he had actually had the meeting with the boss.
There are no cheap laughs from Hanks learning how to do the right thing in a dicey moment. He just seems to know how. And everyone around him seems to bow to him.
Well, that's a great dream if I've ever seen one.
All my life I've wondered what I was supposed to do or be like. Several years ago when the movie 3:10 to Yuma was remade, I had an epiphany about fear and the uselessness of it. But until now I've never seen anything like the kind of comprehensive vision of my place in the world that this movie provides.
Now, I'm not saying I am supposed to be a star hostage negotiator. I'm a writer and a schoolteacher. The closest I've ever come to being like Tom Hanks is when one day a student was frantically searching for her homework in her binder, and I spotted a piece of paper stuffed between the leaves of her textbook. Wordlessly, I opened the book, took out the paper, and gave it to her. I didn't exactly know it was her homework, but I did. She opened the paper and her face lit up in wonder. "Thank you," she said in a how-did-you-do-that voice.
That's not the stuff of Hollywood box-office bashes. But it's something. It's what I am suited to do.
Funny, it only took me fifty years to figure the whole thing out.