by Jason Whyte
Directed by Robert Zemeckis, "Cast Away" is a deep, philosophical and rewarding film experience, the kind of large studio moviemaking done right, and then some. It is a challenging film that I had no problem ontaking, and thanks to Zemeckis' sharp and memorable directon, it is even better than expected. And while some people may balk at the length of the journey, I found this one of the best films of 2000 because of it.Zemeckis isn't afraid to take chances. Look at his opening sequence, a long and quiet dolly shot through a plain of fields, that is so gorgeous it would make Terrence Malick blush. We see a Fed Ex truck pull up to a house in the middle of nowhere, and a package is picked up. Simple, maybe, but Zemeckis has a trick up his sleeve. As soon as the Fed Ex parcel is picked up, we acually watch the rest of the scene POV from the package, and it arrives in Russia the same way.
"One of 2000's best films. No, really!"
Here is where we meet Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks), who is an executive for Fed Ex. We see him as a problem solver, sort of the ringleader for the operations of getting packages on time (I can certainly appreciate courier services more now). He is a busy man, but still has time to go home and see his wife Kelly (Helen Hunt), but only for so long when his trusted beeper gets him sent to Malaysia. Then, it happens: the plane crashes and Chuck is marooned at sea, with only a small floation device to see his way.
The plane crash is one of the most fascinating destruction sequences I have ever seen on film. As the plane crashes, we only see from the inside of the plane, and it is mostly from Chuck's point of view. Employing digital effects which are brilliantly realized and achieved, the situation is tense and powerful and only when we see the outside of the plane that the devesation of the plane is realized.
Chuck winds up on a deserted island with no people, no habitat. "Cast Away" turns into a pure, brutal survivor piece which occupies the center of the film, where Chuck fights for his life with finding food, water, anything. His chances of getting off the island keep getting smaller by the day. It doesn't help, either, that his teeth hurt and his previous attempt at escaping on the flotation device doesn't work, since the sail-less boat can't take the strong waves that push him right back to shore. And just when we think Chuck has had it, four years pass. Chuck is basically dead to the rest of the world, but still a breathing, living adult to this island.
If all the set up and isolation scenes aren't grabbing enough, Zemeckis goes even a step further in the final section of the film, which reinserts Chuck into society with his loving wife Kelly shocked that he is alive, and all of the things that Chuck has lost in the past four years. There are so many ways that the material here can go sour, but Zemeckis and writer William Broyles, Jr., are smart and creative.
The trailers for "Cast Away" are far too revealing, and more spoiler induced than what I have wrote here. It not only shows all the acts in the film, but what happens in them. (Even the final shot in the movie is in the trailer, which I find offensive) However, "Cast Away" is too powerful and amazing to let a trailer get the best of it. There's such a stronger, emotional core in the movie that is never fake, or forced. It would help not to see the trailer, however, if you are easily angered by Zemeckis' marketing approach.
If Zemeckis' marketing approach is poor, he makes up for it in his amazing style and way of showing us new and exciting ways of storytelling. His choice of shooting in the narrower 1.85:1 aspect ratio is justified by Chuck's isolation and being closed-in by his surroundings. I actually feel that if this movie was shot in anamorphic Panavision, it would actually gimmick the end result. The cinematography is by Zemeckis regular Don Burgess, who deserves much credit for the feel of this film.
And it's proof that Zemeckis needs a good story with good characters to fuel his direction. Earlier in 2000 I witnessed the disastarous "What Lies Beneath," which was visually excellent but overlong, lacking in character development, performances, and any semblance of fright. His1994 hit "Forrest Gump," fared a lot better; even if it was a bit distant from Winston Groom's source material, it was still a great film. With "Cast Away," Zemeckis has succeeded in telling a beautiful and emotionally shattering journey that is right up there with his "Gump" and another one of his greats, "Contact.""Cast Away" is big-budget cinema done the exact way I like: it is risky, ambitious and masterfully done. It is long, but never for one moment did I twitch in my seat. The film is long because the isolation of Chuck is eternity to him. Viewers that understand the whole journey of Chuck and what has happened to him, will be just as fascinated with the film, right up until that amazing, beautiful closing shot, that makes perfect sense. At least to me.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4493&reviewer=350
originally posted: 06/13/04 00:10:48