After being stranded on a deserted island for over four years, Chuck Noland (Hanks) returns home to his fiancee (Hunt), only to discover that recovering his former life might be the hardest thing to do.
focus is not concentrated on island survival
Hanks' character exhibits enough ingenuity to keep things interesting
the story drags and lacks action
unconvincing chemistry between Hanks and Hunt
Cast Away is a movie that can best be described as a giant non-event. When I say the story lacks action, I don't mean it has a shortcoming of explosions, falling asteroids, and killer robots--I mean the thing literally lacks a good deal of events that translate interestingly to the visual medium of film. A good hour is spent on Tom Hanks learning to survive on the island, and as an audience, we sit there and watch him drink, breathe, and grow a beard. It's the type of movie in which you're constantly thinking, "Now what?" And while the story is intriguing, the execution is not.
Indeed, Cast Away is a story that would have been far more interesting on paper than film. In a book, we would be able to slip easily into the mind of Chuck Noland, Hanks' downtrodden character. That's where all the interesting stuff lies: what he thinks about never seeing his loved ones again, what he thinks about living out the rest of his days in isolation, and what he thinks about the terrible accidents that befall him. As the director, Robert Zemeckis has the unenviable task of presenting these things visually, and the result is not always compelling. Sometimes we have to rely on Noland insanely talking to a painted volleyball, a story device meant to break the silence and give him a reason to speak; still other times, we have only a whimsical expression from Hanks to rely on, or perhaps a recap spoken later in retrospect.
The trials and tribulations Noland faces on the island are many and formidable, but they are graciously not the focus of the story. The island hour in Cast Away still keeps Noland's adaptation as the story's centerpiece. When placed in the context of pop culture, it also has the welcome side effect of upstaging the morons on Survivor and showing that those backstabbing, moneygrubbing idiots don't have it rough at all. If one of them sprains a leg or catches pneumonia, they have medics and a helicopter standing by. Hell, you'd never see that naked bastard perform his own dental surgery...but I digress.
Most disappointing is how Cast Away fails to play out the one scene that could have potentially had the most impact, and given Hanks a chance to shine: the moment he is rescued mid-way through the story. As it stands, Noland is found floating on a raft, unconscious, when a boat picks him up. What a complete and utter waste! After establishing his isolation for an hour, you'd think the most volatile and gripping event would be when he collides with civilization for the first time in 1,500 days. But no, we're denied this one scene, which is quickly glossed over without a care.
Instead, the movie jumps ahead four weeks, when Noland is cleaned up and well adjusted. Another potentially interesting scene is botched when Noland is reunited with his fiancee, played by Helen Hunt. Rather than a violent torrent of overwhelming emotions, we get a remarkably muted homecoming that isn't nearly as touching as you might expect. The most effective scene between them is when he is observing her from a window, watching her cry. This silent moment speaks greater volumes than the melodramatic tug of war we get when the two are reunited face-to-face.
So what is the peak of the story? Is it Noland getting off the island? Is it Noland being reunited with his fiancee? Or is it when he finally re-examines where he now stands in life? The fact that all three of these points lack any great impact adds to the movie's drifting, aimless feel. Cast Away is a well crafted and sometimes thoughtful film, but it simply lacks the dramatic punch that has characterized Hanks' best work of the last decade. Anyone hoping this movie will be on par with Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, or even The Green Mile will be sorely disappointed.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)