- Cast Away movie (2000) review: Robert Zemeckis’ big-budget Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and “Enoch Arden” mix is less than the sum of its quality parts, which include Tom Hanks’ star turn, Alan Silvestri’s score, and Don Burgess’ cinematography.
Cast Away movie review: Memorable Tom Hanks star turn in high-concept Hollywood 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 explanation that this adventure/psychological 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 almost against his will.
But whichever way one perceives the survival of Tom Hanks’ Federal Express 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.”
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 $90 million budget turn-of-the-millennium release looks fantastic while only scratching 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 focuses on the hero’s failed attempts at leaving the island and on his determination to break a coconut shell.
Yet if the overlong (144-minute) 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 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 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 intricacies of Hanks’ 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 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 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 Federal Express 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)
Director: Robert Zemeckis.
Screenplay: 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.
Cinematography: Don Burgess. Film Editing: Arthur Schmidt. Music: Alan Silvestri. Production Design: Rick Carter. Producers: Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke, Tom Hanks, and Steve Starkey.
“Cast Away movie” notes
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Cast Away movie cast and crew information via the AFI Catalog website and other sources.
Tom Hanks Cast Away images: DreamWorks | 20th Century Fox.
“Cast Away Movie: Gone & Forgotten Tom Hanks Carries Would-Be Existential Drama” last updated in January 2021.