CAST AWAY, which brings together FORREST GUMP's team of star Tom Hanks and
director Robert Zemeckis, is nothing less than the best movie of the year.
And with tremendous poignancy and honesty, Tom Hanks delivers the best
performance of the year. A harrowing and deeply moving story, it is the
scariest movie in years, not in a manipulative or artificial way but with
incidents of genuine beauty and terror. When you're not on the edge of your
seat, you'll be jumping off of it. But it is a rewarding film, not some
cheap thrill, that makes you rethink what's important in life as well as how
hard basic survival can be.
When we meet Chuck Noland (Hanks), he's a FedEx efficiency expert who is
teaching Russian employees how to worship the clock god with the same
religious fervor that he does. Back home in Tennessee, Chuck has an almost
fiancée, Kelly (Helen Hunt). Hunt, who seems to be in every recent film, is
an actress of whom you can never get enough. With little screen time, she
develops Kelly into an extremely sympathetic character. The role could
easily have been a throwaway since this is essentially a one man picture.
Well, there is also a volleyball, but more on that later.
Before Chuck leaves for Russia, we watch in flashback as he and Kelly
exchange Christmas gifts. He gives her a pager, and she gives him her
grandfather's Southern Pacific pocket watch with her picture inside of it.
He promises to always keep it on "Memphis time, Kelly time." These presents
are exchanged in the exactly two minutes that he asks the FedEx flight to
wait for him. Promising, "I'll be right back," he leaves on his "brief"
I've been in an airplane that went into freefall, and there is no more
frightening experience. Our plane pulled out in time, but Chuck's didn't.
The airline disaster is the first of many times that you'll be gripping
yourself, your armrest, your companion or all three. Don't be surprised if
you scream. This, however, is far from the last such experience that you
will have while watching CAST AWAY. Self-administered dentistry and simple
injuries will be others. Even Zemeckis's recent WHAT LIES BENEATH isn't
nearly as frightening as CAST AWAY because the former film was just a movie
whereas CAST AWAY plays more like real life.
After the plane crashes somewhere in an area of the Pacific ocean twice the
size of Texas, Chuck ends up on a large, rocky island with no inhabitants.
Some FedEx packages wash up on shore with everything from ice skates to
videotape. Eventually he manages to put everything to good use, but daily
survival becomes a tricky proposition. Foraging for food and trying to
create a fire prove much harder than you might suspect.
Chuck's Man Friday comes from a birthday present being mailed to a young
boy. Inside the box is a Wilson Sporting Good's volleyball, which Chuck
calls Wilson after painting a face on it. In order to keep his sanity, he
bonds with the ball and loves it more than any pet. This allows writer
William Broyles Jr. (ENTRAPMENT) to have Chuck speak without having to
resort to voice-over. Hanks's body gestures and his limited conversation
with Wilson tell the bulk of the story. If you've foolishly harbored any
doubts whatsoever about Hanks's acting ability, this movie will remove them.
It is a one man show in which we never tire of him.
After weeks on the island, the story jumps ahead four years in which an
emaciated -- the filming was put on hold for 16 months so that Hanks could
shed over fifty pounds -- and sullen Chuck labors away on his island prison.
While we are on the island, Zemeckis lets no background music spoil the
feeling of being alone in nature. A serious movie, it does provide some
comedic flourishes to make it less difficult to watch.
This story of a control freak who loses all hope of control after being lost
in the wilderness is a hard one to end properly. But to the writer's
credit, he manages to make the end almost as gripping and successful as the
rest of the picture. Only in the unnecessary proclivity to too neatly tie
up loose ends in the last scene or two does the movie ever fail us.
If they ever release a five hour director's cut of the movie, I'm there.
It's that kind of story. It could not be more absorbing. We were only able
to witness a small part of Chuck's 4 years stuck in his hellish paradise of
an island. We'd love to know more. Still, we will always treasure what we
learned when we were vicariously incarcerated there with him.
CAST AWAY runs 2:23 but feels shorter. It is rated PG-13 for intense action
sequences and some disturbing images. It would be acceptable for teenagers,
but the movie is likely to frighten most viewers regardless of age.
Copyright © 2000 Steve Rhodes