Cast Away
directed by Robert Zemeckis
(20th Century Fox, 2000)

There's very little action. There's not a lot of dialogue, either. There is rarely more than one actor on screen. Special effects are at a minimum, and there's not much of a musical score.

Sounds dull, perhaps. And yet Cast Away is a phenomenal movie, in part because director Robert Zemeckis was willing to throw away the usual trappings of a Hollywood "hit."

Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx troubleshooter who spends his days jetting around the world to keep the world's package-delivery machine working like clockwork. A call comes in during a pleasant holiday dinner with his family and girlfriend Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt), and soon he's on a small jet over the Pacific. But the weather turns sour and the plane goes down. The sole survivor, Chuck finds himself adrift in a liferaft, then stranded on a barren island with only his clothes and the contents of a few FedEx packages to sustain himself.

Although bookended by scenes of civilization, the movie's midsection is also its heart. Chuck is alone and forced to rely on basic survival skills to preserve life and sanity over four years of isolation. His only companion (and the only reason Chuck speaks at all) is Wilson, a volleyball with a blood-stained face and native 'fro.

There is no voice-over to explain the action or soundtrack to direct the audience's emotions. There's just endless waves and the wind, a lifetime supply of coconuts (which are not easy to open, by the way) and Chuck.

It's no secret that Chuck eventually makes it home -- the marketing for this movie focused on the dramatic twist waiting him there, rather than letting the audience wonder -- but that doesn't take away from the fascination you feel as you watch him perform the mundane steps needed to feed himself, build a fire, treat an infected tooth and, above all else, live. While the final 30 minutes might have overdone the pathos just a bit, the overall package is a riveting piece of storytelling. Hanks in particular deserves kudos for carrying the movie without the usual props, effects and background devices usually employed to distract audiences from the acting.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 27 July 2002

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