Castaway

Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Directed by Robert Zemecks.
Running Time: 146 mins
Rated: M

Noland (Hanks) is obsessed by time. A trouble-shooter with the US courier company FedEx, he roams the world making sure local agents are at their time and motion best. During a Christmas Eve emergency dash to the office FedEx at Malaysia, his plane crashes into the sea. He is the sole survivor and is washed ashore a remote island in the South Pacific. Four years later, looking like John the Baptist and living on the Pacific equivalent of locusts and wild honey, Chuck gets off his island wilderness and goes home to preach gratitude for the things we all take for granted. Life in Memphis has moved on and his fiancé, Kelly (Hunt) is with a child. It seems Chuck is all at sea again.

There are many things to recommend Cast Away. The plane crash is among the best disasters I have seen on the big screen. The majority of this long film is set on the island and the discipline of Robert Zemecks is telling. There is little dialogue until Chuck creates an imaginary friend and so the audience gets a long period to enter the isolation of Chuck's world and reflect on his condition. The attention to detail on the island is near perfect.

Hanks' discipline is on display too. Whichever way they shot the island scenes he had to loose, or gain, up to 20 kgs so that the time lapse is convincing. But it is the emotional range Hanks goes through in his desolation that gives the film its centre and interest. The entire film rests on these scenes working and Hanks is up to the challenge.

There are, however, annoying things in Cast Away that lessen the enjoyment of it. Scriptwriter, William Broyles tries to convince us that Chuck's plane goes down a night's drift from the island upon which he is marooned. The search planes never find it. No matter how off-course the Fed Ex plane was, however, they are all fitted with 'black boxes' which emit signals in case of a crash. It is beyond belief that the search and rescue effort did not comb islands within a night's float of that data recorder. Chuck seems to have good reason to be angry he was never found!

Zemecks, too, wants us to tell us that Chuck is isolated. Each time, however, that Chuck goes up to the one large peak on the island, we only ever see the circumference of Chuck's piece of the Pacific. We needed the horizon to convince us it is remotely true that it is the only island around.

Finally, the dialogue and direction at the beginning of the film is so saccharine, that the crash is a welcome dramatic relief. And when the story returns to Memphis, the film runs out of energy and interest. It would have been a much stronger film if Chuck stayed where he was for better or worse. It seems only Steven Spielberg has the courage to kill-off Tom Hanks at the end of a film.

Richard Leonard SJ

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