Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis team up again for Cast Away, the first teaming of the pair since 1994's acclaimed and Academy Award-winning "Forrest Gump". Based on the success of that film, any audience could expect another expansive, ensemble-cast-driven film that would rival the first in scope and depth. Well… apart from the fact that one cast member is a volleyball, and the others are in the film for about 20 minutes of the total running time, audiences receive what they expect, just not in the way they might have expected it.
Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is a man on the cutting edge of time. Working for Federal Express, we see a man fully in tune with the turn of the century. His pager, his cell phone, the fact that he gets his girlfriend Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt) a pager for a Christmas gift… all testify to the fact that this man is connected to his world, if not so much to the people in it. Due to an unfortunate accident on a trans-pacific flight, Chuck is the sole survivor of the destruction of his plane, and winds up on a small island, where he must survive or perish, solely on his intellect.
This film is very realistic in its depiction of Hanks' character on the island. This is not a hollywood-ized film, in that there are no pat endings, no overly simplistic avenues to survival, and no traditional happy endings either. These factors made this film very hard to get a real feeling for, because if violates much of what the American movie-going public has come to expect from its "entertainment" venues.
The film moves along like a traditional drama through the disaster that strands Hanks character on the island. Hunt's character is likable, and intelligent, but we see too little of her with our own eyes through the film for us to develop much of an emotional attachment. Similarly, Chuck's best friend Stan (Nick Searcy) is likable, but seen for too brief a time for the audience to develop any real sense of him beyond his loyalty to and affection for Chuck.
The most well-developed supporting character isn't a real character at all, but a volleyball that Chuck finds. It is made by the Wilson Sporting Goods company, and after Chuck gives it a face, he names it "Wilson", and this becomes his only companion on the island for his long stay. Wilson becomes Chuck's inner monologue externalized, and allows the character to stay sane and expose his inner thoughts to the audience throughout the film. Wilson becomes the only other "character" to endear himself (itself?) to the audience, as I found myself beginning to empathize with this inanimate object due to Chuck's interaction with it.
The ending of the film is also non-traditional, as it provides no clear-cut, pat ending for everyone to walk out of the theatre feeling a specific way about. Most times, I review a film immediately after viewing it. This time, however, it's been over a week, while I came to grips with my feelings about it and my reaction to the ending solidified in my mind. The ending allows the audience a rare thing in films these days: a choice. You, the individual audience member will be allowed to make up your own mind about what the ending means, and how you feel about it. Of the three other people I saw this with, I got three different interpretations of what the ending meant, and that provided for an evening's discussion that I enjoyed greatly, but didn't accept as what would become my own personal take on it.
Overall, this film deserves an A+ on so many levels, it would be hard to discuss them all. Originality, character development, quality of acting, soundtrack (and lack thereof), action, drama and a level of maturity and sophistication rarely seen in today's homogenized Hollywood. I can only hope this film is indicative of what the mature, intelligent movie-goer can expect out of the studios in the near future. It's so much nicer being allowed to "consume" for yourself, rather than being spoon-fed, and I applaud Zemeckis's decision to do so with great gusto!