Cast Away (2000)

-- Note: The following review contains absolutely no mention of the 
-- television show "Survivor" because this reviewer never watched 
-- the damn thing.  Thank you.

CAST AWAY, and, no, it's not a product for ridding movie sets of 
pesky actors, re-teams Tom Hanks with FORREST GUMP director Robert 
Zemeckis for an extremely agreeable, rather unconventional, and, 
alas, not entirely flaw-free Holiday in the Sun.  (Like you were 
expecting perfection in this Year of Crap?)  The plot plops Mr. Ev-
eryman onto a remote Pacific island, deserted of course, for one 
hour-and-then-some of dialogue-sparse screen time, featuring Hanks 
and Hanks alone and split into two distinct sections--  first, for 
the days then weeks following the stranding, then flash-forward 
four years, with Hanks looking tan, thin, hollow-eyed, and sporting 
enough facial hair to win first prize at a Grizzly Adams contest.  
Before all that unfolds, however, there's a half-pointless prologue 
to endure.  We open in rural Texas, of all places, to witness a 
Fed-Ex pick-up (via Parcel Cam!), then cut to downtown Moscow for a 
front-door delivery of same, and finally segues to a nearby, newly-
opened (I think) sorting center where Hanks' company rep is ranting 
in rapid-speak, trying to motivate the slower Soviet workers.  Oh, 
and add a couple Elvis refs, 'cause Hanks' character is from Mem-
phis, thankyouverymuch.

Hop a (cargo) plane home, for Christmas dinner with the relatives.  
We also meet the girlfriend (and likely soon fiance), played with a 
half-drawl by Helen Hunt, trying to look twenty-something (or so it 
seems) and that high forehead of hers looking even higher and less-
flattering than ever.  (Frankly, she resembles a stringy-haired 
version of that old, cartoon villain from "Underdog.")  Hop another 
plane, this one doomed, and which soon experiences a rapid decom-
pression.  Thus begins one knockout, extended plane crash sequence
-- and night-time ocean ditching!-- shot entirely from Hanks' POV.  
(He faces danger both in the cargo-tossed cabin and after emerging 
on the surface, one of the engine's turbine blades still spinning 
dangerously near.)  Next, single-second aerial shots of Hanks' wee, 
wave-climbing lift raft that beat *anything* seen in THE PERFECT  
BORE.  Finally, one hour in, our hero is washed ashore, onto an 
eye-popping, thunder-rolling (from crashing waves), dangerous rocky 
beach head.

Adventure ensues, with the two-time Oscar winner first exploring, 
then sign-making, then shelter-making, then tool-making, then find-
ing fresh water and food (crab legs!  yum!), and, eventually, mak-
ing... fire.  The last act, in fact, is such a painfully involved 
process that viewers aren't likely to forget the necessary steps, 
should *they* find themselves in similar spots!  (You'll laugh, 
you'll clap.)  All of these realistically depicted exploits, and 
while inherently dramatic, are played in a more... genial fashion, 
with enough levity to inspire frequent, soft laughter from the au-
dience.  (Not much sorrow or outright sadness.  That comes later.)  
Best of all, Hanks' entire island stay is sans music!  (Can't say 
the same for the rest of the movie.  I certainly don't understand 
why that Red Chorus-style stuff is played during the Moscow mad-
ness.  Wouldn't something more jazzy, snappy, busy-like, or "in-
dustrial-sounding" be more appropriate?  Nyet?) 

Does Tom-Tom get rescued?  Or does he die on sand, cold, wet, lone-
ly, and suffering from some horrible, flesh-eating, pus-swelling, 
gangrene-greening tropical ailment?  Well, as the film's trailer 
oh-so-callously gives away the ending, the final outcome is already 
known.  Sigh.  Happily, there's still plenty of moment-to-moment 
suspense, as Hanks endures turns-of-events both great and small.  
(One of the story's strongest strengths is turning simple, take-
for-granted tasks into gripping, momentary actions.)  There's also 
a "Gilligan's Island" appeal to Hanks' appropriation of everyday 
objects as survival tools.  (Said objects being parcels washed a-
shore after the wreck.)  Like an ice skate turned cutting tool.  
Or, in a sequence as goose-worthy as the infamous syringe scene 
from PULP FICTION, that same skate employed as an emergency tooth-
extraction device.  (See: Rock, Swing, Faint.)  And through it all, 
on land, sea, *or* foam, Hanks is superb.  He emotes *just* enough 
to allow empathy, while still leaving room for viewers to project- 
in their *own* feelings.  It's perfect casting.  And, really, what 
*other* actor would you want to spend such an enormous amount of 
intimate screen time with?  Just go ahead and hand him the Oscar...    

-- Read no further if you don't know or don't *want* to know how
-- the movie ends!

If there's a "yeah but" to the whole, very-watchable thing, it's 
the ending.  CAST AWAY closes with a lengthy wrap that's not so 
much awful as glaringly under-effective.  A chunk of it has Hanks  
back home and reuniting with Hunt's old girlfriend.  And though the 
thread makes perfect *melodramatic* sense, it doesn't wash at *all* 
with what we've been seeing on the island.  Sure, Hanks stared at 
Hunt's picture time and time again, but his character was way, way, 
*way* more concerned with his imaginary companion Wilson.  (Don't 
ask.)  Maybe that's why the entire encounter feels lifted from some 
other, more-lifeless movie.  Oh, and true to *her* previous roles, 
Hunt again gets soaked on-screen, this time in a rainstorm.  What's 
that about?  Happily-ever-after-ly, the film's final scene is the 
best of the post-island batch.  Yeah, we've seen it coming all mov-
ie long, but it plays even nicer than expected.  Just wish we could 
have watched said scene without *once* thinking the words "product 
plug."  Cue swelling music.  With Buster Crab, Swim E. Fishe, Coco 
Nutt, Tyde Poole, and Rocky Ridge.  (Rated "PG"/143 min.)

Grade: B

Copyright 2000 by Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies as MOVIE HELL: A Tale of a Fateful Trip

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Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros