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Cast Away (2000)

Starring Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt with direction by Robert Zemeckis


Cast Away is a modern take on Robinson Crusoe.  Hanks is a busy manager of Fed Ex, the mail despatch company, in which he's an exacting systems engineer, counting the minutes and seconds.  Hanks is helping to establish a new operation in Moscow, cajoling the Russians out of their traditional lethargy.  Romantically attached to Helen Hunt and planning to marry her, Hanks dashes home to Memphis to be with her for Christmas, only to be urgently called away to a problem in Tahiti.  He promises Hunt to be home for New Year, a promise that's destined to be dashed.

Whilst on the flight, the aircraft gets into difficulties over the Pacific in a tropical storm.  Unable to maintain control, the pilot ditches into the ocean, a harrowing and startlingly realistic moment in which Hanks manages to extricate himself from the flooded fuselage, escaping from the sinking aircraft with an inflatable dinghy into the storm-tossed seas.  Exhausted and in a state of shock, Hanks is washed up on a small island where he finds himself alone, abandoned, and with few provisions.

Thus starts a four year odyssey of having to learn basic survival techniques in total isolation.  The island has few foodstuffs - coconuts and a lagoon containing fish and shellfish - and no running water.  Faced with a formidable job of survival, Cast Away's middle section becomes a one man show with Hanks managing to scratch out a basic existence using the island's few resources and some wreckage washed ashore from the aircraft.  More challenging still is for Hanks to maintain his sanity and to preserve the hope that one day he will be rescued.  To that end, he forms a friendship with a volleyball!  Found amongst the washed-up Fed Ex packages, Hanks paints a face on the ball which becomes his sole companion during the long, lonely years.

Four years on, after a violent tropical storm, some corrugated sheeting is washed ashore, the remains of a portable lavatory.  Realising that he may be able to fashion a sail from the sheets and with sufficient wood to build a raft lashed together with the stripped out remains of video cassettes, Hanks decides on a do or die effort to escape the island, fearing that he may end his days there, alone and forgotten.  But he has to negotiate a dangerous reef offshore.  The Pacific belies its name and sends waves crashing onto the reef, an obstacle which caused Hanks to come to grief on a previous escape attempt in which his leg was gashed open.  Finally, Hanks escapes to the open sea, but the island is very remote and passing ships are few and far between.  Floating on his gradually disintegrating raft for some days, he's finally rescued by a giant tanker ship.

He returns home to a hero's welcome, but it's a bittersweet fate that befalls him.  The memory of Hunt and a fading photograph of her helped sustain him through the loneliness, but her life has since moved on and she's no longer free to be his.  Both struggle to come to terms with their renewed acquaintance, but they have to accommodate to their changed circumstances and accept that they cannot resume life from where they left it.

Cast Away works very well, particularly in what is mostly a one man film.  Hanks is very strong through the highs and lows of his isolation. It was a very exacting part requiring the loss of 50lbs in weight to represent the passing of four years with very modest food supplies.  It was brave on the part of director Zemeckis to turn over the large central section of Cast Away to Hanks.  It would have been all too easy to alternate between isolation and civilisation and have a film about thwarted search and rescue.  Instead it's a tale of an indomitable human spirit and a reduction of life to its bare essentials -- in stark contrast to the hectic lifestyle that preceded it in which time is measured in minutes and seconds, not years.

Hanks is a consummate actor and handles the changing moods of the part very well.  Unfortunately, although the opening and closing sections in civilisation seem almost perfunctory, competent yet lightweight tales of romance and sadness, they are essential bookends to the core of Cast Away.  Some might baulk too, at what appears at times to be an extended promotional film for Federal Express, the product placement being so prominent throughout.  On balance Cast Away is a fine film, but it's the solo Hanks who'll linger long in the memory and he well merited his Oscar nomination for a touching, sad, yet uplifting performance.

Libertarian Alliance 2008

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Hanks is very strong through the highs and lows of his isolation. It was a very exacting part requiring the loss of 50lbs in weight to represent the passing of four years with very modest food supplies.


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