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Dustin Putman

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Cast Away (2000)
4 Stars

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy, Lari White, Michael Forest, Viveka Davis, Jenifer Lewis.
2000 – 143 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for an ultra-realistic plane crash and mild profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 23, 2000.

At first glance, "Cast Away," directed by Robert Zemeckis (2000's "What Lies Beneath"), may appear to be a feature film version of TV's "Survivor," where a man stranded on an island must learn to fend for himself in order to stay alive. Zemeckis and screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. could very well have made such a movie and come up with a first-rate adventure-thriller, along the lines of 1988's "A Cry in the Wild." Instead, their purpose is exposed to be something else entirely, and the title hints at this ambitious aim. Instead of being about a castaway, the picture is about a man very much dependent on today's technology to help him live his life, who, through circumstances out of his hands, is cast away from society, and must start his life anew.

In, perhaps, a career-best performance in a very long line of successes, Tom Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a loyal Federal Express executive who devotes much of his time trying to make the company as good as it can be. Following a short Christmas reunion with his sweetheart, Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt), he is paged to return to work, although not before handing her a small, wrapped present that both parties know is an engagement ring. While traveling across the Pacific, Chuck's plane runs into severe turbulence due to a nasty storm and it ultimately crashes. Narrowly escaping with an inflatable raft in hand and a treasured locket with a picture of Kelly inside that she gave to him before he shoved off, Chuck eventually finds himself washed ashore on a desolate island devoid of any other human life.

For its middle 75 minutes, "Cast Away" is a hugely involving and fascinating look at the way Chuck deals with being cut off from all people and everyday conveniences, as he is forced to learn how to survive with very few resources. With a wealth of coconuts surrounding him, Chuck's diet becomes solely dependent on the fruit until he learns to start a fire from the friction of sticks and eventually work his way up to crabs and fish. And thanks to a bunch of Fed Ex packages that drifted to shore, Chuck gains access to a few limited articles of clothing, ice skates whose sharp blades come in handy, and a volleyball that becomes his only friend and a personal salvation on the island, going as far as painting a face on one side using his own blood from a wound.

It's no secret from the television ads and theatrical trailer that Chuck does, indeed, make it back to civilization. While more suspense might have surrounded such a question had it not been so blatantly given away, such a decision holds absolutely no bearing on the success or overall impact of the film. In a way, it is a positive thing, as it directs the viewer's attention away from a possibly unknown outcome, and toward the deeper meanings behind the picture's existence. The final 30 minutes, with Chuck now back home following a four-year disappearance that led everyone to believe he was dead (and going as far as holding a funeral for him), is just about as powerful and truthful of a denouement as could possibly be expected.

"Cast Away" is a cinematic triumph, a motion picture so rich with honest emotions and ideas that it comes as a relative surprise that this is a big-budget, star vehicle. Rarely does Hollywood prove that it is still capable of making intelligent, adult fare, so when such a stirring feat occurs, it is all the more reason to rejoice. The movie is thoroughly entertaining for the entirety of its nearly 2 1/2-hour running time, and it is effective on every level--both as a character study, and an accurately drawn adventure yarn.

Appearing in every scene (save for a 3-minute prologue that delves into the lives of Fed Ex workers across the globe), Tom Hanks (1999's "The Green Mile") is astounding. Highly publicized for the unorthodox way in which Zemeckis made the film, taking nearly a year off in between in order for Hanks to drop 60 lbs., it is a testament to Hanks' loyalty to his craft to go through such a rigorous process. Impressing even more greatly than his physical appearance is his performance, deeply charged with serious emotions and subtly dodging any signs of saccharine drama. With the majority of the picture literally a one-man show (and with this sizable middle chunk also devoid of music and very little dialogue), Hanks is able to single-handedly take hold of the screen and keep the viewer with him at all times. Very few actors could ever spend 75 minutes alone onscreen and remain captivating, but Hanks does just that.

In her fourth film appearance in the last three months (with the other three being in "Dr. T and the Women," "Pay It Forward," and "What Women Want"), Helen Hunt is perfectly cast as the love of Chuck's life, Kelly. While, no doubt, the smallest role Hunt has had this year, it is also her strongest performance. Not only is it easy to see why Chuck loves Kelly so very much, and why she is one of the reasons he hangs onto the hope of seeing her again one day, but Hunt injects the part with a level of compassion and heartbreaking pathos that is truly unforgettable.

An allegory on the importance most people place on material items, and the extreme impact being cut off from such things can have on someone, "Cast Away" is the exquisite, thought-provoking journey of a man who ultimately must find a way to put his life back together when everything he had previously known changes in the four years he is gone. And even more, it is an unforgettable love story between two smart, likable people who know they were meant for each other--and keep that fact between them, even when they realistically know nothing can ever be the same again. With 2000 quickly reaching a close, "Cast Away" is easily one of the very best films of the year.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman