HomeMovie ReviewsCast Away Movie: Gone & Forgotten Tom Hanks Carries Would-Be Existential Drama

Cast Away Movie: Gone & Forgotten Tom Hanks Carries Would-Be Existential Drama

Cast Away movie: Despite serious script limitations, two-time Best Actor Oscar winner Tom Hanks (Philadelphia, 1993; Forrest Gump, 1994) delivers a well-rounded, poignant performance in this Adventures of Robinson Crusoe and “Enoch Arden” mix. (Pictured: Tom Hanks in Cast Away.)
  • 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.[1]

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?

Cast Away with Tom Hanks. Nearly half a century after Dan O’Herlihy received a Best Actor Oscar nod for Luis Buñuel’s Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Hanks was shortlisted in the same category. O’Herlihy lost to Marlon Brando for On the Waterfront; Hanks lost to Russell Crowe for Gladiator.

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.

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, 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

Fast-break

[1] While filming was interrupted for about a year, Tom Hanks went on a steady diet so he could look emaciated in his later scenes on the island.

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


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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.

11 comments

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11 comments

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.

Reply
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!

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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.

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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.

I think that pretty much sums up the reasons for the way director and screenwriter handled the film.

Reply
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.

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jake -

why did chuck say that the package saved his life?

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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.

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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.

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jesse johnson -

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

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Andre -

@Joe

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.

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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

Reply

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