review by Joe Barlow, 29 December 2000
Thank the merciful saints of
movie-going for Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks.
Virtually every critic in America, including yours truly, has
bemoaned the dearth of quality films in the year 2000, yet just as
things are at their bleakest, along comes Cast Away, an
emotional tour-de-force all but guaranteed to sweep the 2001 Oscars.
A disaster movie hasn't been this marketable--or as
well-crafted--since Titanic, and no, that's not intended as a
backhanded complement. Cast
Away is a powerful piece of narrative storytelling, anchored by
one of Hanks's best performances, and the sheer depth of the story
will make it an experience the viewer will remember for a long time
Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a
Federal Express executive who specializes in finding ways to shave
minutes off a package's delivery time.
Although his life is dominated by his career, Noland
maintains a warm, loving relationship with his girlfriend Kelly
(Helen Hunt), and plans to propose to her at an upcoming New Year's
Eve party. When a
last-minute Christmas rush threatens to delay the delivery of some
Fed-Ex packages, Noland boards a plane to go help out his
co-workers. En route,
the aircraft encounters a severe winter storm and crashes into the
Pacific Ocean. Noland,
the sole survivor, washes up on a tropical island and spends the
next four years trying to fashion a return to civilization while
insanity eats away at him.
Hanks's performance is so inspired
that no words I can write could possibly do it justice.
The emotional range Hanks conveys has to be seen to be
believed, and his physical transformations are no less remarkable --
filming was actually suspended for a year so that Noland's aging
would appear more believable -- resulting in one of the most
consistent performances of Hanks's already remarkable career.
We share firsthand in both his triumphs and his heartbreaks,
and witness how his unwavering love for Kelly becomes a source of
inspiration during his exile.
Desperate for company, Noland
creates a friend for himself by painting a smiley face on a
volleyball found in one of the water-soaked boxes near the crash
site. Christening his
new buddy "Wilson," after the ball's manufacturer, Noland
uses the ball as a sounding board for his loneliness and
amazing is the skill and sincerity with which Hanks conveys the
growing "friendship" between the pair.
Amusing and frightening at the same time, these scenes reveal
the sheer scope of Noland's longing for companionship far better
than any amount of cloying voice-over narration.
By seeing how important Wilson is to Noland, we begin to
share his affection for the grinning volleyball.
If youíre not touched by the final fate of Nolandís
silent companion, youíre made of sterner stuff than I.
Robert Zemeckis, who last worked
with Hanks in 1995's Forrest Gump, clearly knows how to
squeeze the maximum amount of drama from a story; as a result, even
though Cast Away is a tremendous viewing experience by any
standard, it will prove especially interesting for those viewers
interested in the craft of filmmaking.
Zemeckis adopts a minimalist approach for much of the story,
abandoning a conventional orchestral score in favor of a far more
haunting alternative: utter silence.
This was an excellent -- and brave -- choice on the part of
the director, and it truly allows the audience to share Noland's
sense of isolation. Also
witness how, with a confidence bordering on bravado, Zemeckis
orchestrates the movie's showpiece scene -- the plane crash -- into
something that manages to horrify while simultaneously retaining a
cold, stark beauty.
It's intriguing to note that the
movie's title is alternately being given as Castaway and Cast
Away in the various advertisements I've seen, a clever
promotional ploy that lends a double meaning to the tale and also
serves as clever (and subtle) foreshadowing for the story's third
act. Cast Away
is not really about Chuck Noland's adventures on the deserted island
so much as it's about the repercussions of his time there. The film's lengthy post-island epilogue sets up a new series
of obstacles with which poor Chuck has to deal.
The movie's final shot is some kind of masterpiece, depicting
a confused and sullen Chuck Noland standing at both a physical and
metaphorical crossroads. It's
perhaps the most striking visual symbol I've seen in any film this
Cast Away is both triumphant
and heart-wrenching, and it touched me like few other cinematic
works. While it would
be an exaggeration to say that I came out of the theater a changed
person, the story left me with more to think about than any other
movie in recent memory, and continues to haunt me as I write these
words. You know a film
has affected you on a profoundly personal level when your first
actions after seeing it are to run home as fast as you can, throw
your arms around your loved ones, and remind them how much they mean
to you. Cast Away
has the power to remind you of what's truly important in life, and
for that reason alone it's the best holiday gift you'll ever
William Broyles Jr.