CAST AWAY (2000) 

Tom Hanks
Helen Hunt
Christopher Noth
Nick Searcy
Lauren Birkell
Lari White
Viveka Davis
Ashley Edner

Robert Zemeckis



Time: 143 mins.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama

Academy Award nominations for Best Actor (Hanks) and Best Sound.

Even after seeing the trailer, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this movie. What you get is another brilliant performance by Tom Hanks, who once again proves that he's one of the best actors of our generation. Even without the incredible physical transformation he undergoes for this role, I don't think there's another movie star out there that could've tackled this role. After seeing what Hanks went through, I'm not sure anyone else would've wanted to, but that's a whole different story. What's amazing to see is that at this point in his career, when he could playing the same old, safe roles he continues to stretch his acting abilities, clearly taking on pieces that are challenging both to him and the audience.

CAST AWAY is a huge risk for Hanks mainly because he's really the only character in the film. Whether this movie works on any level is completely in his hands. Certainly Zemeckis plays a part, but this is clearly Tom's show. He has to create a character that's likeable and strong, yet who is also not afraid to show weakness or pain. When you get right down to it, there's not much of a plot, but you do get taken on quite the physical and emotional ride. Without the subtlety and humor of Hank's performance, and Helen Hunt's toward the end, this could have been a ridiculous, over-the-top melodrama. However, because he plays it simple, you will accept nothing less than his survival. It's clear from the beginning that Chuck Nolan is an average guy. When placed in this extraordinary situation he must succeed, otherwise you would not be able to see yourself surviving the same circumstances, which is necessary for the film to work. I have no doubt that I wouldn't have lasted a week, but I really wanted him to.

The film opens with several Federal Express deliveries, which don't arrive on time, pissing Chuck Nolan off. He's in charge of making sure offices around the world realize the importance of time and how it affects their business. He's dating Kelly Frears (Hunt), a woman he loves very much, but doesn't get to spend much time with. Her family wants them to marry as they're obviously quite happy together, but they're rarely in the same city long enough to have real dates, never mind plan a wedding. When Chuck is called to work on Christmas Eve, Kelly is displeased, but well aware of the drill. They quickly exchange gifts in the car – Kelly gives Chuck a pocket watch that's been in her family for generations with a picture of herself glued inside, Chuck gives Kelly hand towels, a journal and something tiny in a jewelry box, which bespeaks an unsaid and yearned for proposal. When he yells to her "I'll be right back," it practically broke my heart. You know their lives are about to be torn apart, never to be put back together and the future just hinted at will not come to pass.

"That's a search area of 500,000 square miles. That's twice the size of Texas. They'll never find us."

Since everyone knows the plane crashes, all I'll say about that is...holy cow! Not a good situation. Extremely terrifying. THE PERFECT STORM has had a clear effect on how much better water effects are depicted and I was so nauseated by watching the little life raft move over the swells, I had to look away. Once he explores the island he lands on, which is probably only a few miles square, it's pretty clear that immediate rescue is not an option. With the help of the contents of several FedEx packages that also washed up on the beach, he begins to make serious strides for long term survival. He even manages to keep his sense of humor while he figures out how to catch food, "bottle" water and keep loneliness at bay. Survival with few tools is also more painful than one would imagine, as his many injuries, while trying to accomplish what would be a simple task in the modern world, attest to. The picture of Kelly is his lifeline to his humanity and the world that exists beyond his view. Her existence and love keep him hoping, giving him a reason to survive. However, he eventually gets lonely, so he creates a friend named Wilson from a volleyball painted with his own blood. Wilson becomes his constant companion, giving silent advice and quiet friendship.

It's somewhat jarring when the story suddenly cuts to 4 years later. Not only because Chuck's physical appearance has changed so dramatically, but because his mental state has obviously been gravely affected as well. When we leave him after several weeks – the actual time passed is unclear – he still has hope and is in reasonably good shape. The emaciated form that has clearly learned to survive on this rock he now calls home is startling. You know it has to be the same person, but it's hard to put the two of them together in your mind. You sense that Chuck has given up and is basically just waiting to see what happens. He doesn't seem to care whether he sees another day or not. A strange sound awakens him one morning and becomes the lifeline he needs to try to reach humanity again. He realizes he has only one chance to break free and puts all his effort into making it happen. With nothing but a small raft and Wilson as his guide, he sets off on the sea, unwilling to waste away and die alone on that horrible little island.

After much trauma on the open sea, he is eventually rescued and returned to civilization, only to be set adrift by his new unknown role in the world. Since everyone thought he was dead, they moved on and started new lives without him. Kelly is overjoyed and devastated by his reappearance in her life. Their scenes together where they try to come to terms with the loss of a relationship that meant the world to them both is heartbreaking. Hanks and Hunt are amazing together as a couple both uncomfortable and easy with each other. The emotions in these scenes run high, but the great acting by both makes the scenes honest and sad. They've lost the future they would have had and the knowledge is so painful and heavy, you can feel it come off the screen. In the end, Chuck finds a safe harbor in the world, a place where he can be happy and enjoy life again.

CAST AWAY is an extremely engaging theatrical experience despite the simplicity of its story, the lack of dialogue and the almost total absence of music. The only sounds you hear for a good portion of the film are the natural ambient noises from the island, the environment and Tom Hanks voice, when he has occasion to speak. This plops you right down into the center of his dilemma. I can't remember a film shot in the last 30 years that was as quiet. Even once he returns to civilization the soundtrack is filled with ambient noise, not the latest pop song or sappy score. Zemeckis chose the high road and it works beautifully. It goes against 99 per cent of what you're expecting from a film and it helps to connect you to the confusion that Hanks's character is undergoing. I found the worst part of Hanks's job on this film would have to be the fact that he was wet over 75% of the time. I just couldn't have taken that.

This is definitely a film that should be seen on the big screen – the total sense of isolation will be lost on TV – but the personal nature of the story should make up for that if you can't make it to the theater. Though the message of the film is one we've seen ad nauseum the past decade, CAST AWAY manages to bring a subtle and thoughtful perspective to it. Though I cried, I didn't feel overly manipulated, probably due to the lack of violins screaming from the soundtrack. Hanks gives an honest, life-changing performance, baring his heart and soul to the audience. It's a rare thing and one I enjoyed immensely. Of course, if you're not a fan of his, you might want to walk right on by. Though how anyone couldn't be after watching this film is beyond me.

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