- Cast Away (2000) movie review: Robert Zemeckis’ big-budget Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and “Enoch Arden” mix ultimately amounts to less than the sum of its top-quality parts, which include Tom Hanks’ star turn, Alan Silvestri’s score, and Don Burgess’ cinematography.
- Cast Away synopsis: Following a plane crash, a FedEx engineer becomes stranded on a remote, uninhabited Pacific island. While he struggles to survive, the world moves on.
- Cast Away received two Academy Award nominations: Best Actor (Tom Hanks) and Best Sound.
Cast Away (2000) movie review: Memorable Tom Hanks in Robert Zemeckis’ high-concept adventure flick disguised as existential drama
Most people will see Robert Zemeckis’ 2000 hit movie Cast Away as a celebration of the Triumph of the Human Spirit.
A (however small) minority, this reviewer included, will prefer the more mundane assessment that this psychological adventure drama merely depicts a man following his survival instincts, which propel him – like any other animal, from cockroaches to crocodiles – to fight to remain alive no matter the obstacles.
But whichever way one interprets the survival of Tom Hanks’ FedEx engineer Chuck Noland (No-land, get it?) after being stranded for years on a small, deserted Pacific island (mostly shot in Monuriki, Fiji), one thing is obvious for all to see: Cast Away is little more than an elaborate, crowd-pleasing star vehicle disguised as an existential drama that borrows heavily from both Daniel Defoe’s 1719 novel The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Alfred Tennyson’s 1864 poem “Enoch Arden.”
Cast Away plot: My pal Wilson
The story of a workaholic who must learn to live without work, without clocks, and without people – Chuck’s sole companion on the island is a volleyball named Wilson – this $90 million turn-of-the-millennium release barely scratches the surface 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 takes into account 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 places its focus on the hero’s failed attempts at leaving the island and on his determination to break a coconut shell.
Yet if the overlong (139-minute) Cast Away is considerably less profound than its makers may have 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 undeniable qualities, among them its top-of-the-line production values and state-of-the-art special effects that are used to create what may well be the most harrowing plane crash ever filmed.
Tom Hanks runs the gamut
Additionally, the capable Tom Hanks (who also received a producer credit) has the chance to run the gamut, at least outwardly, from neurotic workaholic to jungle savage and on to Zen Master.
Even though the screenplay prevents the viewer from ever getting to learn the intricacies of Chuck’s inner transformation, the two-time Best Actor Academy Award winner acquits himself remarkably well, mostly managing to surpass the limitations imposed on his character.
If some of the island humor feels juvenile – 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 dramatic moments. Really, how many actors could weep for the loss of their 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 enchanting 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, the encounter serves merely as a justification for the film’s pretentious two-word title: Not even FedEx workers are indispensable.
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, this reviewer was moved in spite of his better judgment, partly because of Silvestri’s haunting melody and partly because of Tom Hanks’ touching, minimalist look of renewed hope.
Cast Away (2000) cast & crew
Director: Robert Zemeckis.
Screenplay: William Broyles Jr.
Tom Hanks … Chuck Noland
Helen Hunt … Kelly Frears
Nick Searcy … Stan
Jenifer Lewis … Becca Twig
Geoffrey Blake … Maynard Graham
Peter Von Berg … Yuri
Chris Noth … Jerry Lovett
Lari White … Bettina Peterson
Nan Martin … Kelly’s Mother
Paul Sanchez … Ramon
Leonid Citer … Fyodor
Cinematography: Don Burgess.
Film Editing: Arthur Schmidt.
Music: Alan Silvestri.
Producers: Steve Starkey, Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis, and Jack Rapke.
Production Design: Rick Carter.
Costume Design: Joanna Johnston.
Production Companies: ImageMovers | Playtone.
Distributors: DreamWorks Pictures | 20th Century Fox.
Running Time: 139 min.
Country: United States.
“Cast Away (2000): Tom Hanks + Robert Zemeckis” notes
Cast Away movie credits via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.
See also: Highest grossing comedy ever?
Tom Hanks Cast Away movie images: DreamWorks Pictures | 20th Century Fox.
“Cast Away (2000): Tom Hanks + Robert Zemeckis” last updated in August 2023.