The premise of Cast Away is a simple one – a man marooned on a remote island – yet it’s one that isn’t attempted too often, and seldom done well. It’s not even the first “lost at sea” movie I’ve seen this week. The Life of Pi was an amazing film, so I decided Cast Away had to be the next movie knocked off my list. I’ve received too many gasps and stunned looks after telling people I’ve haven’t seen this Tom Hanks showcase, it was time to put an end to it.
In Cast Away, Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland (Get it? C. No-land?) a plump, middle aged every-man working for FedEx. On a last minute Christmas day business trip to Malaysia his plane plummets into the ocean, killing everyone on board except himself. With little supplies or survival knowledge, he spends the subsequent four years on a remote island, with only an inanimate volleyball named Wilson to provide company.
The simplicity of the tale works in the film’s favour; the man trapped on a desert island idea is nothing new, it’s Chuck that sets this picture apart. In Noland Hanks eloquently shows a human being on the brink, clinging desperately to both life and sanity. We see both the defeat and the triumph of Chuck’s will, along with the desperate hope saved in the one surviving FedEx package Chuck decides not to open, but instead someday deliver.
This movie is truly carried by the showcase performance from Hanks. The role called for a level of commitment and and power very few actors could provide – Hanks is one of them. Hanks is able to embody a man in which we can all see ourselves, while still establishing himself as a heroic figure who just wants to see his wife. It’s also very rare to find an actor who can so convincingly perform opposite a volleyball. It’s often said of great actors an ability to bring the rest of the cast to life, very few can do this to an inanimate object.
Hanks’s performance is further heightened by the direction of Robert Zemeckis, who brings the island to life with beautifully shot scenes and an unrivaled commitment to the picture. Many crew members stayed on the island themselves before shooting, giving the film an authentic element many similar movies simply cannot duplicate.
My only gripes with Cast Away are miniscule, yet notebale. Even though the movie is only twelve years old, some elements – CGI fish for example – do appear somewhat dated. Also, there are some loose ends left untied (*Possible spoilers ahead*). For example, before Chuck leaves on Christmas day, he gives his girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) a tiny box, telling her not to open it until New Years Eve. Presumably this is a ring, yet it is never mentioned again in the film, even though we find out later that she has kept many of Chuck’s things since he went missing. Not a big deal at all, it just bugged me slightly. We also never find out how half a port-a-potty from Bakersfield, California wound up on a desert island in the south Pacific, but I digress.
I had been waiting to see Cast Away for a very long time, possibly longer than any other film on my list. After all that time, I was in no way disappointed. Cast Away is not just a survival story, it’s a movie about the power of the human will to overcome insurmountable odds, even when hope is a blinking light fading into a watery horizon. Most importantly Hanks and Zemeckis show all of us are capable of this triumph, not just the knights in shining armour heroes of our popular culture. Cast Away is a beautiful film, and I recommend it to anyone looking for an uplifting ride.