Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy, Jenifer Lewis, Geoffrey Blake, Peter Von Berg, Chris Noth, Lari White.
This modern day version of Robinson Crusoe reunites Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, etc), the most commercially successful director of all time, with his Oscar winning star Tom Hanks. In one of his most physically grueling roles to date, Hanks plays a man who is stranded on a remote tropical island for four years.
Chuck Norland (Hanks) is a trouble-shooter for Fed Ex, whose expertise takes him to far-flung place such as Moscow. On Christmas Eve, he is called away from a family dinner with his long time girl friend Kelly (Helen Hunt, solid in a small but pivotal role) for a special flight. But the plane runs into a storm somewhere over the Pacific, and crashes. Norland is the only survivor and is washed ashore on a small, remote island in the middle of nowhere. Norland has to learn how to adapt to his new, unfamiliar environment and survive.
After four long and arduous years, he is finally able to make a daring bid to return to civilization, battling huge waves on a flimsy hand crafted raft. When he returns home he finds he cannot return to the life he once knew, and is forced to make some momentous decisions about his future.
Unlike many other castaway films (The Blue Lagoon, Six Days, Seven Nights, etc) Cast Away is a film that focuses on its single, average hero as he tries to cope with the fierce elements and his isolation. There are no pirates, no savage natives, no killer animals, no sexy other distractions, no cut aways to the desperate search, to enhance the suspense. All we get is two hours of Hanks, desperately learning how to survive, to fish, to make fire, talking to a volleyball named Wilson for some comic relief, and even practicing a form of do-it-yourself dentistry, in the one scene guaranteed to make the more faint heated look away.
Hanks is incredibly convincing in his role, and delivers a painfully raw performance that could see him nominated for another Oscar. He is on screen for the duration of the film, and audience response to Cast Away will very much depend upon their individual reaction to Hanks’ screen persona. Hanks took a year off in the middle of the production to enable him to lose weight and capture that lean, hungry, wasted look that perfectly suits the second hour. In that time, Zemeckis went away to make the lightweight and disappointing Hitchcockian thriller What Lies Beneath. His direction here is far more economical, restrained and understated, and this is one of his more intimate productions, eschewing his usual reliance on clever computer generated special effects.
The plane crash sequence, however, is brilliantly staged and quite terrifying. The film has been beautifully shot in some exotic locations by veteran cinematographer Don Burgess, and looks superb on the big screen.