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Cast Away

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 12/19/00 18:00:10

"One of the Best Silent Films Ever Made"
5 stars (Awesome)

I was not a fan of the television show Survivor. I hated the idea of it and couldn't get into it the few times I watched for two reasons. The first was that no matter how hard they tried to convince everyone that this was a reality show, the fact was that it was nothing more than a game show. Take a dozen contestants, throw them on an island, have them compete in pseudo-Olympic like events to score points and then vote each other off like a dinner theater version of Lord of the Flies. There's about as much reality there as a trip to Tomorrow Land at Disney.

The second reason is even simpler. The people on the island were jackasses and I'd sooner have that island firebombed Apocalypse Now style than see them become national celebrities. Simply put, screw Survivor and that's a feeling I'm sure many people will share after seeing Robert Zemeckis' brilliant new film, Cast Away. This is a film brimming over-the-top with realism and features one of our most treasured (and likable) actors, Tom Hanks, in an incredible, virtually silent performance as a survivor.

Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a top notch Federal Express efficiency expert, whose life and job revolves around each square inch of the clock. Packages must get there on time otherwise people are unhappy. The other love of his life is Kelly (Helen Hunt), but work keeps him away for weeks at a time. After a wonderful goodbye scene, Chuck is headed on another FedEx emergency. En route through some heavy weather, Chuck's plane tumbles out of the sky and into the ocean, leaving him to brave the waves alone on a flimsy life raft.

Credit must be paid due to Zemeckis and his special effects crew for braving the winds of movie history that has upped the ante for plane crashes every year since 1993's Alive ripped the tail off sending several passengers flying. Taking us completely by surprise, Zemeckis actually brings originality to the disaster, creating as scary and realistic a sequence ever seen in a motion picture.

After the tragedy, fate washes Chuck to a deserted island where he composes himself and waits to be rescued. Realizing that writing "HELP" in the sand will not bring him immediate salvation, Chuck as efficient as ever starts to devise shelter and search for food and drink. The construction of William Broyles Jr.'s screenplay is nothing short of brilliance allowing the audience to work with Chuck in figuring out what elements and tools he must use to ensure his survival. Those elements will not be revealed here as one of the great pleasures is discovering them as Chuck does.

Cast Away takes great advantage of Chuck's solitude. There is no cutting back and forth between him, rescue efforts and Kelly. Once he's on that island, so are we. For the long haul. It's a testament to Zemeckis' faith in us to embody a great portion of this nearly 90-minute second act with silence. No music. Little-to-no dialogue. Just the sound of the ocean and Chuck's struggle. It's virtuoso filmmaking. So virtuoso that when Alan Silvestri's unmistakable theme does finally appear, it becomes all the more powerful.

Much has already been said about the film's trailers and ads. Like Zemeckis' other film this year, What Lies Beneath, Cast Away seems to give away a major plot point. If you've seen any of the TV commercials, then you know what it is. But unlike ‘Beneath' which revealed vital information in the context of the film's central mystery, the ads for Cast Away don't reveal anything we really don't feel in the back of our minds going in and don't betray scenes which are, in essence, the heart of the story. For where most films would have ended, Cast Away goes further with a third act that is as emotionally investing as anything in the plane crash or on the island, with a simple final shot that is a masterstroke of clarity.

Aiding to that clarity is the one-and-only Tom Hanks, who if denied his third Oscar this year, should demand a recount. Since redefining his career with Philadelphia, Hanks has been involved in one great project after another from Gump to Apollo to Private Ryan. Cast Away is a one-man show and Hanks goes above and beyond the challenge avoiding the cliches of just going mad for show-off purposes. Here he works up to such moments, keeping himself composed as frustration leads to injury, only then releasing his anger naturally.

Hanks is equally strong in the moments where he doesn't use his vocal cords. Remember the treasured moment in Gump when he discovers he has a son. Not a word is spoken and Hanks has numerous moments in Cast Away, just using his face. It's these moments that hush the critics and prove his worthy stature of being able to hold his own in the silent film era, comparable to Chaplin's more poignant moments in The Kid and City Lights.

This is a monumental achievement for both Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis who continues with each passing film to secure himself a space alongside the great directors of all time. And like the best of them, he's a first-class storyteller with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Frank Capra and David Lean. Seriously, how many actors and directors can make an audience place an emotional investment in a volleyball? Cast Away is as close to a modern silent film as you'll get. William Broyles Jr. doesn't allow sentences to substitute for explanation. The audience aren't taken for fools. We understand what's being said with the picture of Kelly, the flashing lights or the irony of the modern conveniences he could have used on the island. So much is spoken here without words, through the camera and Hanks' eyes and it couldn't be handled with any more dignity or bravura.

Cast Away is the stuff of great literature, the kind taught in high schools, remembered and saved in old leather-bound editions. Chuck Noland is a Robinson Crusoe for our times, denied the everyday particulars of pagers and company, reduced to prehistoric stature in his quest for fire and later ability to write on the cave walls. He's not a man out for adventure, but one who must continue to survive over and over again. A man who dies and is reborn again in a society that has all but forgotten about him. Cast Away is exciting, metaphorical and as emotionally draining as any film you will ever see. I haven't stopped thinking or feeling about it since I saw it. With its subject matter, some may refer to it as a commercially accessible "art" film. I call it a masterpiece. (Note: Federal Express is not used for mere product placement, but to add to that sense of realism. We know FedEx. We know the world in which FedEx exists, making Chuck's journey all the more authentic. Wouldn't it be silly to give the shipping company he works for a fake name like Chuck's Speedy Delivery (For Your Bucks)?)

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