***We're looking for contributors***

'Cast Away' Movie Review: Tom Hanks Excellent in Populist Existential Drama

Cast Away Movie Tom Hanks Island'Cast Away' Movie with Tom Hanks stranded on a deserted island.

'Cast Away' Movie review: Tom Hanks excellent in high-concept Hollywood flick disguised as existential adventure drama

Most people will see Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away as a celebration of the Triumph of the Human Spirit. A minority, myself included, will prefer the more mundane explanation that the film merely depicts a man following his survival instincts, which propel him – like any other animal, from cockroaches to crocodiles – 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, populist star vehicle disguised as an existential The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe-esque drama.

A volleyball named Wilson

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 turn-of-the-millennium Robert Zemeckis release offers little depth in its exploration of the ever-elusive 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 brand new volleyball into something resembling a rotting 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 Robert Zemeckis' previous collaboration with Tom Hanks, that monumental paean to idiocy and conformism known as 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.

Cast Away movie Tom Hanks'Cast Away' movie with Tom Hanks at sea.

Tom Hanks runs the gamut

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 laughably ridiculous?

No one is indispensable

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 ex-castaway, Kelly has moved on with her life. Thus, that encounter merely serves as a justification for the film's pretentious two-word title: Not even Federal Express workers are indispensable.

Tom Hanks Cast Away endingTom Hanks: 'Cast Away' ending.

'Cast Away' ending: 'Red' rehash

Alan 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 Three Colors: 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.

Cast Away (2000).
Dir.: Robert Zemeckis.
Scr.: William Broyles Jr.
Cast: Tom Hanks. Helen Hunt. Lari White. Nick Searcy. Jenifer Lewis. Nan Martin. Vince Martin. Geoffrey Blake. Chris Noth. David Allen Brooks.

Cast Away Tom Hanks Helen Hunt'Cast Away' with Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.

Tom Hanks' Best Actor Oscar wins and nominations

* Tom Hanks won back-to-back Best Actor Oscars for Jonathan Demme's AIDS drama Philadelphia (1993) and Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump (1994).

Additionally, Hanks was nominated for Penny Marshall's Big (1988), Steven Spielberg's World War II drama Saving Private Ryan (1998), and Zemeckis' Cast Away – for which, while filming was interrupted for about a year, Hanks went on a steady diet in order to look emaciated in his later scenes on the island.†

More recently, he was a shoo-in for Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips (2013), but ultimately failed to be shortlisted in the Best Actor category – despite the film's popularity with the various Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences branches, as indicated by its total of six nominations.

The Best Actor winner that year was Matthew McConaughey for another AIDS drama, Jean-Marc Vallée's Dallas Buyers Club. The other nominees were:

† During the year-long Cast Away movie break, Robert Zemeckis directed Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer in What Lies Beneath.

'Cast Away': Oscar Movies

Robert Zemeckis' Cast Away received two Academy Award Nominations.

  • Best Actor
    Tom Hanks.
    Winner: Russell Crowe. Gladiator.
  • Best Sound
    Randy Thom. Tom Johnson. Dennis S. Sands. William B. Kaplan.
    Winners: Scott Millan. Bob Beemer. Ken Weston. Gladiator.

Cast Away cast information via the IMDb.

Helen Hunt and Tom Hanks Cast Away images: DreamWorks / 20th Century Fox.

If you liked the article 'Cast Away' Movie Review: Tom Hanks Excellent in Populist Existential Drama, please recommend it to your friends. See floating share buttons on the left.
Follow Alt Film Guide on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.
'Cast Away' Movie Review: Tom Hanks Excellent in Populist Existential Drama © 2004-2015 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
Text NOT to be reproduced without prior written consent.

Continue Reading: 'The Insider' Movie Review: Corporate Greed Is Bad for Your Health

Previous Post: 'The Fixer' Movie: Overwrought Anti-Semitism Drama

Click on 'Load Comments' to leave a comment and/or read previous comments about 'Cast Away' Movie Review: Tom Hanks Excellent in Populist Existential Drama.

Important: Different views and opinions are perfectly fine, but courtesy and respect are imperative. Rude, bigoted, baseless (spreading misinformation), and/or trollish/inflammatory comments will be blocked and offenders may be banned.

11 Comments to 'Cast Away' Movie Review: Tom Hanks Excellent in Populist Existential Drama

  1. Jeff

    I have been told that I am TOTALLY wrong on this by a FEW ppl….so, I'm going to ask you -

    IN THE THEATER - when Hanks comes back, there is a scene where He and Helen Hunt are at Hunt's home, and she is showing him all the search maps - …they had sex in the theater release. After which, he asked “Will I see you again ?” and she says “Yes, but not like today”. That scene never made it to DVD or TV -
    Does ANYONE remember this ? My sister says it never happened.

  2. Kara Song

    Thank you for the insight. I hadn't seen the movie, but after I found your site and read this review I felt I must see it. Low and behold! I agree with you. Your review is sopt on. The movie had some good moments, but overal it's too Hollywood. NEXT!

  3. Ed

    This movie is pure genius, anyone that does not understand this, clearly did not understand the movie. They did not catch the subtle nuisances, here inlies the genius. Depending on your IQ, you may need to watch it more than twice. While I could talk about the subtleties to length, I will only address one. Where the road is, is of no importance, what it represents is. It's a cross roads, he has choices to make, the roads can lead him where chooses. He clearly chooses to go back down the road he just came. His life is with the women in the truck, notice the wings she sculpts, follow them through the movie, only then will you understand.

  4. Andre

    “Cast Away” was a major hit. Had Zemeckis and Broyles Jr gone for a more profound exploration of Chuck Noland's psyche instead of creating a “survival of the human spirit” adventure movie (with a tad of romance thrown in), “Cast Away” would've been a small art house movie. With luck, that version would have grossed 1/10th of what Zemeckis' “Cast Away” ultimately earned. With a lot of luck…
    I think that pretty much sums up the reasons for the way director and screenwriter handled the film.

  5. Nathan Donarum

    I think this review is pretty spot on, Andre. I always had major issues with the movie, not least of which was everything AFTER he gets off the island. If not for Tom Hanks performance, this movie would have been useless to me. Although I enjoyed Forest Gump, your point about THIS movie's pretentions and attempts at deeper meanings that just aren't there is absolutely true.

    One problem I had was a lack of focus on character development. And don't misunderstand me. It's true that almost the entire movie is about just ONE character. But the thing that always bugged me about that was how little we actually come to learn about him, or who he is. We know bits and pieces, but the screenplay really leaves the audience on the outside more than it should. That's not Tom Hanks fault at all. He gives us exactly what's asked of him and more. The problem is that what's asked of him seems surprisingly little in the way of actual depth and understanding. Much of the screenplay is based around simple ideas and situations of physical survival.

    I will say that the “relationship” he creates with Wilson was a very interesting choice. But it could have been used in a much more interesting way, i.e. using Wilson as a catalyst to explore his former self, his life before the island, his hopes or his dreams, etc. Instead, we really just get a pseudo-buddy movie moments that tend to ring more false than I would have liked.

  6. jake

    why did chuck say that the package saved his life?

  7. Bruce

    The bookend scenes were filmed in Canadian Texas acording to one press release. Interesting since the artist who made the wings (Broyles wife) was born in Canada.

  8. Kris

    Anyone know the model year of the red truck? For some reason, I think it was in Texas - I saw a road sign or something, but not 100% sure.

  9. jesse johnson

    i ask where were the last few scenes in the movie taken

  10. Andre


    That's not Helen Hunt. The woman driving the truck is Lari White, a country music singer. She also appears at the beginning of the film.

  11. Joe

    Dear Sir/ Madam,

    Castaway 2000, with Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt.

    Please can you help? In the film Castaway,Tom Hanks 2000. Who is the actress at the end of the film driving the red truck, where he delivered the Fed Ex parcel to her house.

    I think it's Helen Hunt, can you confirm?

    Thanks Joe