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Cast Away

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Tom Hanks prepares for an onslaught of sweltering temperatures and extreme beard growth.

2000, 20th Century Fox
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Reteaming for the first time since "the hit that swallowed the world" "Forrest Gump,"star Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis come roaring back with "Cast Away" (IMDb listing). An introspective look at one man's reliance on the material world, only to come face to face with a corner of the planet that only requires pure instincts, "Cast Away" might be the most expensive art-house film of the year. It's abstract, deliberate, and a bit choppy, but it's also mesmerizing and touches something deep within the moviegoer that too many films don't even try to reach. It's also the water-cooler film of the century. The ultimate "I tell ya what I would've done if I was stuck on that damn island" opinion film for the masses.

Hanks stars a Chuck Noland, an ambitious and hard driving Fed Ex manager who casually globe trots as he cleans up the messes that poorly managed Fed Ex hubs leave behind. Leaving behind a fiancee in Memphis (Helen Hunt) who loves him dearly, Chuck boards a plane to Malaysia where his meticulous skills are needed by the company. Chuck's plane soon finds trouble over the South Pacific and crashes into the ocean. Washed up on a deserted island, Chuck is alone and unable to comprehend his lack of control over the world anymore. Forced to fight for his survival, Chuck begins an odyssey that will last four years and change him forever. The painful memories of the life that was stolen from him haunting his every passing day.

Because this is a risky project, I can only assume everyone associated with "Cast Away" is quaking in their boots. Most of the film is without dialog, very little score is employed, and the resolution of "Cast Away" doesn't really resolve anything. The film is not the typical heartwarming holiday fare that we can all set our watches to. "Cast Away" is far more complicated, and therefore much more fulfilling than its contemporaries. Going beyond any kind of cheap thrill of watching a man suffer at the hands of nature, "Cast Away" is a contemplative look at how we live our lives and our belief in material things. Beautifully directed by Zemeckis, "Cast Away" exceeds expectations as just another deserted island picture as it turns slowly into a heart wrenching look at a man who thought he had it all, watches all slip through his fingers, and then is forced to fit the pieces back together once he is back in civilization.

"Cast Away" invites comparison. How would you react if you spent four years of your life away from everything you know? Everything you love? Frankly, I don't think I could be as strong as Chuck.

It's a brave performance from Hanks, sure to bring him even more accolades that he ever thought possible. While Chuck is far removed from the Tom Hanks we know and love, little bits of Hanks's trademark gestures and reactions are present in the character. When Chuck finally gets fire going on the island, I could see bits of the old "Bachelor Party" Hanks as his character dances around the fire. Baring himself both physically and emotionally, Hanks delivers a vivid interpretation of a beaten, but not broken, man. As with Geoffrey Rush's performance in the recent "Quills," Hanks bares his soul and his body for the camera with remarkable sincerity. It makes his autopilot performance in the horrid "You've Got Mail" all the more depressing. Fortunately, "Cast Away" solidifies his reputation as a risk-taking actor willing to spearhead intricate projects.

But what was Robert Zemeckis doing this summer with the sloppy "What Lies Beneath"? Zemeckis has forged ahead as an artist in recent years, taking on movies ("Contact") with more gravity than his B-grade films of the past ("Used Cars," "Romancing the Stone"). By directing the massive hit "What Lies Beneath," Zemeckis was obviously throwing a nod to his "Tales From the Crypt" past, however that film didn't add up to much. Thankfully "Cast Away" is more competent than the Michelle Pfeiffer thriller from last summer. Using, rather than relying, on his technical proficiency this time out, "Cast Away" is the most understated film to ever come out of Zemeckis. There are no speeches to rely on, no much musical score to sell the emotions, nor are there any zombie girlfriends or spaceships. Zemeckis is left to come up with creative ways to sell four years on a deserted island. It is a challenge that the director is up for. He manages to make 140 minutes alone with Tom Hanks into the most interesting stuff on celluloid this season. That is no small accomplishment. Not that there aren't any special effects to keep Zemeckis' hands busy. There is a plane crash in the film, and the tech wizards do such a convincing job with that disaster that "Cast Away" will never be mentioned on an in-flight entertainment magazine.

It's really too bad that "Cast Away" wasn't a mini-series, or even went longer than 140 minutes. This epic story needs epic storytelling, and for all the trouble the filmmakers go to communicate Chuck's journey, the film feels disjointed by trying to fit more than four years of information in such a compact running time. The film is divided into four sections: Chuck at home, Chuck beginning life on the island, Chuck four years later, and Chuck back home. Any of these sections are a film of their own, but by trying to squeeze in so much story into a passable running time the film suffers by not filling in the gaps. I wanted to see how Chuck adapted to life on the island. I wanted to see the anguish of his family when they heard about Chuck's plane crash. The four years of island life would've been compelling cinema, be we don't see it. There is also a suicide attempt that is talked about but never explored too deeply. And anyone with a beating heart would have wanted to see Chuck's reaction the very first day he is rescued from the island. But we don't see those scenes either. We are robbed of these moments simply because there isn't enough time for them. I only get so many "I wishes" a year, but I would gladly give them all up to just see more of "Cast Away." It's a majestic and touching story brought to life by two people who are in complete control of their creative powers.

Filmfodder Grade: A-

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