CAST AWAY (2000)
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Lari White
Screenplay: William Broyles Jr.
Tom Hanks, Cast Away
Many will see Cast Away as a celebration of the triumph of the human spirit. Others, myself included, will prefer the more mundane explanation that the film merely depicts a man following his survival instincts, which propel him to fight to remain alive almost against his will.
Whichever way one chooses to view the survival of Tom Hanks’ Federal Express engineer Chuck Noland (No-land, get it?) after being stranded for years on a deserted island (mostly shot in Monuriki, Fiji), Cast Away is little more than an elaborate star vehicle disguised as an existential adventure film.
The story of a workaholic who must learn to live without work, without clocks, and without people — Chuck’s only companion on the island is a volleyball named Wilson — this Robert Zemeckis production offers little depth in its exploration of “the meaning of life.” Not helping matters, Cast Away also leaves much to be desired in terms of character development, unless, that is, one considers Wilson’s radical transformation from clean-cut volleyball into something resembling a drug-addicted pineapple. For instead of dealing with Chuck’s inner metamorphosis from Man of the Clock to Man of the Now, William Broyles Jr.’s screenplay focuses on Chuck’s failed attempts at leaving the island and on his determination to break a coconut shell.
But if the overlong Cast Away is considerably less profound than its makers intended it to be — much like Zemeckis’ previous collaboration with Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump — the film does have a number of good qualities, boasting top-of-the-line production values and outstanding special effects that are used to create what may well be the most harrowing plane crash ever filmed.
Additionally, the capable Tom Hanks has the chance to run the gamut, at least on the surface, from neurotic workaholic to jungle savage to Zen Master. Even though the screenplay prevents the viewer from ever getting to learn the depths of Hanks’ inner transformation, the two-time Oscar winner acquits himself remarkably well, oftentimes surpassing the limitations imposed on his character. If some of the island humor feels pretty silly — e.g., the scene in which Chuck sings "Come On Baby Light My Fire" should have been left stranded on the cutting-room floor — Hanks wins points for his more dramatic moments. Really, how many actors could weep for the loss of his hairy volleyball without looking utterly ridiculous?
Cast Away is also immensely helped by Alan Silvestri’s score, which we first hear about two hours into the film, when Chuck finally escapes his tropical prison. Through Chuck’s point of view, we see the island fade behind the ocean mist, while Silvestri’s music increases in intensity to create one of those rare, magical screen moments. Not even Silvestri, however, can save the corny (momentary) reunion between Chuck and his former fiancée, Kelly (Helen Hunt). Although she professes her undying love for the cast-away Chuck, Kelly has moved on with her life. Thus, that encounter merely serves as a justification for the film’s pretentious (two-word) title.
Silvestri’s music returns later on to help elevate Cast Away’s tacked-on whimsical finale, a "fateful" contrivance that feels more like a poor imitation of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Red than the intended moment of epiphany in the spiritual journey of our hero. Yet, contrived or not, I was moved in spite of myself, partly because of Silvestri’s haunting melody and partly because of Tom Hanks’ touching, minimalist look of renewed hope.
Note: A version of this Cast Away review was initially posted in October 2004.
2 Academy Award Nominations
Best Actor: Tom Hanks
Best Sound: Randy Thom, Tom Johnson, Dennis S. Sands, William B. Kaplan