Cast Away


Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by:William Broyles Jr
Starring: Tom Hanks, Wilson The Volleyball, Helen Hunt, Christopher Noth
Released: January 18, 2001
Grade: A

It's not Tom Hanks, it's not Robert Zemeckis or it's not even Wilson the Volleyball that will draw audiences to Cast Away.  It's the storyline.  How many times have you heard a question asked like "what three things would you take with you on a deserted island?"  Just look at the huge ratings the recent Survivor television series has generated.  Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like?  In today's technologically advanced world, the possibility of being stranded seems an impossibility.  Or is it?

FedEx employee Chuck Noland’s (Hanks) life revolves around getting things done on time.  He's the guy that takes care of your package when "it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight".  It's a tough job travelling around the world especially when having to leave his long-term girlfriend Kelly (Hunt) behind.  Kelly understands the demands placed on Chuck by his job and the two cherish every moment they spend together.  Still, there just doesn't seem to be enough time.

Called out to Malaysia on Christmas night, Kelly drops Chuck to the airport under strict instructions that he's back to her by New Years Eve.  Exchanging presents in the car, Chuck gives Kelly a small box with the instruction not to open until the new year.  Chuck sets off to catch his flight jokingly saying "I'll be right back".

Deep into the flight, the plane encounters severe turbulence, losing radio contact.  Attempting to avoid the storm, the pilot changes course with little success and crashes into the Pacific.  By sheer chance, Chuck survives the impact and with the help of an inflatable raft is washed ashore on a small uninhabited island in the middle of nowhere.  There's no chance of a search party with the plane veering roughly 400km off its intended path.  The impossible has now become distinctly possible...

Tom Hanks has won two Oscars (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) but he may be remembered most for this career-best performance in Cast Away.  From the moment he sets foot on the island, there's nothing more to watch than a silent Tom Hanks relying solely on actions and expressions.  The film was shot in two stages 12 months apart to allow Hanks to transform from a "beefy" FedEx employee to a "lean" wildman.  The time off allowed director Robert Zemeckis to make What Lies Beneath in between.

Speaking of Zemeckis, his direction is bold and original.  It's a tough ask to make a two and a half hour movie set in just one location with just one actor.  With little film score, you'll go much of the movie with only the soft sounds of the wind, rain and crashing waves.  I am curious to know how much was paid by FedEx and Wilson for the not-so-subtle advertising.

One can't overlook the effortless performance from Wilson the Volleyball.  A few tears will be shed over his fate and he can expect a flood of great scripts in the near future.  I feel the Academy will ignore his subtle performance but the Broadcast Film Critics have already rewarded him with best performance by an inanimate object.

Cast Away should be appreciated on many levels.  Hanks goes from being a man with no time to a man with nothing else but time.  What does he learn from it all?  Zemeckis leaves the question open to wide interpretation.  The ending is slightly drawn out but it will leave you something to think about.

Above anything else, this is a story of love.  Every moment he spends alone on the island, he longs for a way to get back to Kelly.  The audience may not relate to a man trying to survive on desolate island but they'll emotionally understand what's driving him.  That's what life is all about.  It's not what you make of it - but who you make it with.