Cast Away is The Big Tom Hanks Movie of 2000, the latest in a long line of Big Tom Hanks Movies that stretches back to include The Green Mile, Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13, Forrest Gump, and Philadelphia. However, Cast Away has the distinction of being the only Tom Hanks Movie to star no one but Tom Hanks.
Just about, anyway. As you've undoubtedly heard, Cast Away largely concerns Hanks' character Chuck Noland, stranded and forgotten on a tiny island in the South Pacific after his plane goes down in the drink. Ruthless in business (living and dying "by the clock,"), yet deep down kind enough to give you the shirt off his back, Noland is a FedEx manager constantly jetting around the globe to fix things that go awry. And that means lots of plane time.
In one of the most spectacular, realistic, and harrowing crash sequences put to film, Noland's sudden Christmas Eve flight goes off course and then plummets into the ocean, only hours after Noland has handed a small, conspicuously ring-sized box to his earthbound girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt). Karma and Hollywood being what they are, Noland survives the crash and winds up on the aforementioned island. And get comfy, because he's going to spend a long time there.
Skeptics be damned, Cast Away's finest moments consist of Hanks alone with his surroundings. I never thought it would be any fun to watch Mr. Gump parade around on the beach solo, but it simply is, a testament to the man's serious acting chops. As Noland figures out how to survive against impossible odds -- from opening a coconut to making a fire to collecting fresh water to drink to dealing with a toothache -- I found immense satisfaction in viewing his daily rituals. The actual experience of being on that island would be unfathomable and unbearable. To have turned it into a very watchable movie is unthinkable. And yet they've done it.
I'm not giving anything away that isn't part of the trailer by saying that, years later, Noland escapes his gulag, whereupon he must come to terms with a world that has cast him away (get it?). Unfortunately, once Hanks is back in civilization, the movie completely bogs down with soulful soliloquies, mainly between Noland and his lost girl Kelly, who has had to move on with her life. None of this epilogue offers anything in the way of surprise, mainly because director Robert Zemeckis cuts out what stood to be the most thrilling part of the film -- the first month that Hanks spends back in civilization. I mean, if you spent four years alone on an island, do you know how seriously messed up you'd be? Hell, I start to itch if the TV is off for an hour.
But in Cast Away Hanks is a longhaired near maniac one minute. The next he's shaved and fine, with a little insomnia and sun-bleached hair his only apparent problems, mental or physical. You could have made an entire film about his reconditioning. Or you could have just ended it when he makes his escape. Anything but this hour of padding that leeches from what is otherwise an emotional tour de force.
It is certain that Hanks's name will be up in lights again come Oscar nomination time. The same can't be said for Helen Hunt, an unfortunate casting mistake whose innate, hard-assed unlovability makes you wonder why Noland was interested in her to begin with.
Ultimately, Cast Away rests wholly on the strength of its second act and its leading man. The supporting cast, the editing, the camerawork -- everything else is completely swept aside to make way for our survivor. And that's funny, because if you'd told me yesterday that Tom Hanks, a movie camera, and a whole lot of nothin' would be the recipe for great cinema, I'd have told you to take a flying leap in the ocean.
UPDATE: Now available on DVD, Cast Away is truly a mixed blessing. The film is solid even on the small screen, its closeness helping to retain its impact. The DTS sound transfer (one of three English options alone) is incredible and jarring during the film's more powerful scenes... but all you need to do is switch over to the commentary track to hear the most banal jibbering ever put to disc, courtesy of Robert Zemeckis and his technical crew, wherein its revealed that almost everything we see and hear is totally man-made in an effects lab. The second disc of this two-disc set features a bunch of repetitious documentaries that borrow footage from one another. Some curious insights are held within, but with the exception of some of screenwriter William Broyles' comments, the extras aren't worth much. The film, fortunately, stands totally on its own.
Four years on this rock and all I got was this lousy hairdo.
Run time: 143 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd December 2000
Box Office USA: $233.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $429.6M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, DreamWorks SKG, ImageMovers, Playtone
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 138 Rotten: 16
IMDB: 7.7 / 10
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenwriter: William Broyles Jr.
Starring: Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland, Helen Hunt as Kelly Frears, Chris Noth as Jerry Lovett, Paul Sanchez as Ramon, Lari White as Bettina Peterson, Leonid Citer as Fyodor, David Allen Brooks as Dick Peterson, Semion Sudarikov as Nicolai, Peter von Berg as Yuri, Dmitri S. Boudrine as Lev, Nick Searcy as Stan, François Duhamel as French FedEx Loader, Michael Forest as Pilot Jack