Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis, whose pairing on Forrest Gump
scored a high-flying home run, reteam for this new effort, Cast Away,
a bravura reworking of the Robinson Crusoe
idea about a man stranded by himself for four years on a South Pacific island. For Hanks, this is essentially a one-man show, and the much-praised actor proves himself most able. All the popular stories about the weight the actor lost for the role, the unconventional shooting schedule that required a long hiatus for Hanks to lose all that weight, and the unbeatability of the Hanks-Zemeckis duo only obscure the fact that Cast Away
is a handsomely constructed and executed movie, the kind of effort that deserves appreciation, on its own terms, for what it both dares and accomplishes. It is an appropriate movie to usher us in to the year 2001 as its story of the evolution of man (in this case a solitary man) bears some spiritual connection to Stanley Kubrick's 1968 opus. Both track the growth of the human impulse to dominate the immediate environment and invent tools and apparati that further that end. And like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Cast Away
is as interested in the philosophical implications of its story as it is the mechanical. The opening sequences of the movie introduce Chuck Noland (Hanks) as a FedEx systems engineer, a seriously Type-A personality who takes pride in his ability to live by the clock and solve all technical problems. Washing up on the virgin soil of his new island home, Chuck finds his talents truly tested by his new surroundings. He discovers food when a coconut falls on his head; later he learns to make a tool from its shell. He learns to gather fresh water from the rain and his efforts to create fire are truly Herculean and finely focused. He dutifully gathers the FedEx packages that wash up on the shore, but only opens them once he decides to place his own needs above those of the recipients. His ingenuity turns their contents into makeshift inventions. More difficult to solve are his needs for companionship, although even here his inventiveness creates a modest solution. Throughout this entire middle part of the movie, the almost entirely dialogue-free (at least in the conversational sense) events hold rapt our attention. The combined forces of the strong screenplay (by Austin screenwriter Bill Broyles, developed from an idea by Hanks), the commanding performance of Hanks, and the impressively understated camerawork (by Don Burgess) raise the story from a simple man-vs.-nature battle to a struggle for spiritual survival. This is no more clear than when Chuck finally returns to civilization with its awkward homecoming and stalled romance. That the movie doesn't give way to a conventionally upbeat resolution works in its favor and makes us feel more generous toward its otherwise hokey ending. But its lessons about the need to sustain life even when it seems to have lost all meaning are refreshingly honest. Cast Away
is a significant achievement of this, or any other, year.