Cast Away Review
By Joe Lozito
Hanks A Lot
Following one of the most spectacular airplane crashes ever filmed, FedEx troubleshooter Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) finds himself stranded on a small, deserted tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific. Not many actors could carry a film with a premise like this one. Mr. Hanks can. Unlike most survival sagas, "Cast Away" does not cut back and forth between the island and a frantic search party. The story is told linearly as though the audience were marooned on the island with Chuck. These scenes are the most powerful in the film.
Director Robert Zemeckis dares the viewers throughout the film to imagine themselves in Chuck's place. At one point in the middle of the night, there is a small light (possibly a rescue ship?) on the horizon. At first, Chuck doesn't notice it. The idea of attracting the attention of a ship hundreds of miles away is futile at best, but Mr. Zemeckis is baiting the viewer. And it works. We want Chuck to see that light and somehow signal the ship.
As a film, "Cast Away" is cursed. It cannot possibly live up to the incredible time spent on the island. Realistically, almost any ending will feel tacked on and unbelievable. The audience has been through a very personal experience with Chuck. Thrusting him back into society doesn't work because we don't know his friends or his life. It's as though the astronauts from "2001: A Space Odyssey" were returned to Earth at the end.
We know from the opening scenes that Chuck is obsessed with time and that he loves his girlfriend (Helen Hunt, in her least shrill performance to date) and intends to marry her. These are noble and to some extent common attributes, but they don't make Chuck a character. The time spent on the island is as much about the audience's own personal fears of abandonment as it is about Chuck's. So, again, we don't see Chuck as a character as much as a symbol.
Mr. Zemeckis is an able director, but he has a tendency to Hollywoodify his stories. "Cast Away" could have ended at a dozen different points in the film. None of them would have felt neat and tidy, but then again the film shouldn't feel that way. There can be no easy ending to this film, and trying to concoct one betrays everything we've just gone through.
Tom Hanks has a nearly impossible job here. He gives another thoughtful performance (both emotionally and physically) but even he, sometimes, feels adrift (pun intended) in a script that doesn't know what it wants to say. On the one hand, solely watching Mr. Hanks explore his island is fascinating. On the other hand, Hollywood wouldn't make a film like that. This is Mr. Zemeckis' most confident directing to date. If he only had as much faith in his audience.