Tom Hanks is nothing if not versatile. In the past, he's played an AIDS victim ("Philadelphia"), an astronaut ("Apollo 13"), a soldier ("Saving Private Ryan"), and a prison guard ("The Green Mile"), and won back-to-back Best Actor Oscars for his performances. And his latest, "Cast Away", is sure to earn him more kudos...and, perhaps, even another Oscar.
In "Cast Away", Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx systems engineer who is constantly on the move. One of his journeys goes horribly wrong when the plane he is travelling on crashes into the South Pacific, leaving him the only survivor. Washed up on a deserted island with only the clothes on his back and a life raft from the downed plane, Noland now has to apply all his skills to simply surviving in an environment he is completely unprepared for.
As time passes, Noland figures out the basics - heat, water, shelter, food - and even manages to find a measure of companionship in the form of a football he names Wilson. And one day, he finds a way of escaping from his island prison and returning to a world which has long since left him for dead. Little does he know, though, that getting back is only half the journey...
Part adventure, part love story, "Cast Away" is quite unique by today's standards - there are no guns, no sex, and, for many of the island scenes, almost no conversation. Needless to say, this only adds to the pressure on Hanks to sustain the movie through these sections...and he succeeds admirably, making us feel his character's emotions and experiences through body language and occasionally-humourous action. The other cast members, particularly Noland's girlfriend Kelly (Helen Hunt) and his friend Stan (Nick Searcy), also turn in some good scenes, but have a supporting role at best.
Director Robert Zemeckis also does a good job of putting his camera where it counts (some of the underwater scenes are extremely well-placed), and the sudden shift from Noland's frenetic life in Memphis is perfectly counterbalanced by the slow passage of time on the island. The photography, especially the scenes on and around the island, is beautifully done, and deserves mention here as well.
Even conceptually, "Cast Away" is an interesting film; on screen, backed by Hanks' performance, it is one you should make a point of watching. You heard it here first.This article was first published on 28 Feb 2001.