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(2000) (Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt) (PG-13)

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Drama: The lone survivor of a plane crash must figure out how to survive the physical and mental hardships of being stranded alone on an uncharted, tropical island.
Chuck Noland (TOM HANKS) is a systems engineer for Federal Express who works and lives by the clock. Jaunting around the world with fellow employee Stan (NICK SEARCY) and instructing international centers how their package delivery system works, that one lives or dies by the clock, and that it's a sin to loose track of time, Chuck barely has time for his girlfriend back in Memphis, Kelly Frears (HELEN HUNT).

Although he gets back in time to be with her on Christmas Eve, Chuck gets a page that he must leave for yet another job. Telling her he'll be right back after giving her what she assumes to be an engagement ring but is afraid to open, Chuck heads off on his flight over the South Pacific.

Encountering a bad storm, the small crew of the FedEx plane diverts off their course to get around it, but ends up crashing, with Chuck being the sole survivor. Washing up onto the shores of a tropical island, Chuck is happy to be alive, but soon finds that he's all alone on an uninhabited isle, with nothing but water surrounding him and only a few remnants of civilization to help him survive.

Nevertheless, he does just that, learning how to build shelter, hunt for food, start a fire and overcome the rampant loneliness that descends over him day after day, month after month, and year after year. As he does so, he hopes that at some point he might be rescued, not realizing what might then lie in wait for him after being gone for so long.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Okay, everyone, you probably know the "Gilligan's Island" ditty, so let's all sing along:

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful plight
That started from this Memphis port
Aboard this FedEx flight.

The hero was a mighty systems man,
His girlfriend pretty and pure
But he left her at home on Christmas Eve
For a trans Pacific tour, a trans Pacific tour.

The weather started getting rough,
The FedEx plane was tossed,
If not for the courage of the hero man
The packages would be lost, the packages would be lost.

His life raft set aground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle,
With Oscar watches again
Bob Zemeckis too,
A volleyball, and lots of strife,
A big movie star
Weight loss, and a tan,
Here on Tom Hanks' Isle.

Yes, nearly 300 years after the publication of "Robinson Crusoe," four decades since the film, "Swiss Family Robinson," 33 years after Gilligan bumbled his way around an island, two decades since Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins discovered each other in "The Blue Lagoon" and just 2 years after Harrison Ford and Anne Heche did the same in "Six Days, Seven Nights," Tom Hanks joins the exclusive club of Hollywood stars to play a Crusoe-like character with his latest film, "Cast Away."

Notable for many things, the film's biggest draw may be that it teams up Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis for the first time since they struck Oscar gold in 1994 with "Forrest Gump." No doubt, many studio executives and industry pundits will be curious about whether the two will be able to bottle lightning twice.

Of course, the two films are vastly dissimilar, and like the effect of being deserted on an uncharted isle, Hanks and Zemeckis certainly have their work cut out for them with their latest endeavor. Not only are they treading on a familiar storyline that's been both mocked ("Gilligan's Island") and shamelessly exploited to no end (TV's "Survivor"), but there's also that little matter regarding Hanks appearing alone on the screen for ninety or so minutes out of the film's nearly two and a half hour runtime.

That's right, there's no potential love interest on the island or any terrorists, pirates or - as Tom Hanks likes to say in interviews about the film - supermodels arriving there for a photo shoot. Nor does Zemeckis cut away to any rescue efforts or the worried girlfriend back home. No, instead it's all Hanks, all of the time, at least during the long island stretch.

While some may see that as a potential detriment - particularly the four or five people in the world who don't like the "everyman" Oscar winner - the film certainly benefits from Hanks' presence and performance. With little help from screenwriter William Broyles, Jr. ("Apollo 13") when it comes to dialogue - let's hope he wasn't paid by the word in this often dialogue-sparse script - Hanks makes the most of the little with which he's been given to work.

Both he and Zemeckis ("What Lies Beneath," "Contact") certainly demonstrate a knack here for taking overly familiar material - the basic wash up on the shore, figure out how to survive on the island outline - and make it interesting and compelling. While they don't deliver anything we haven't previously seen in any of the prior castaway films, the two manage to hook and then effortlessly hold the viewer's attention despite the fact that not that much really occurs - from an action standpoint -- in the middle section of the film.

Without the usual cutaways to outside activity and emotion, someone to play off or much dialogue to speak, the heavy burden of carrying the film clearly lies on Hanks' shoulders. It certainly doesn't hurt that he's gone the physical extreme route to play the role, first gaining a lot of weight for the opening scenes and then reportedly shedding some fifty pounds - over a year layoff during which Zemeckis shot "What Lies Beneath" -- to look more like a realistic, long-term island survivor.

While Oscar voters tend to favor amazing physical transformations in their nominations and awards, amazing alterations in appearance can only go carry a character and film so far. In that regard, Hanks ("The Green Mile," "Saving Private Ryan") manages to act - with only a volleyball as his non-speaking costar for much of the film - in such a way that you completely believe he's there all alone, thus creating an incredibly sympathetic portrayal of such a man.

Speaking of that volleyball - appropriately named Wilson after the company that manufactures it and not as a substitute for Hanks' real life wife - one potential fault that viewers may have with the film is the obvious product placement. Beyond the ball, the film is one long commercial for Federal Express (and how their packages will always get through, if a little late, to their recipients) and marks the second time Hanks has appeared in such a product heavy film (the other being "You've Got Mail").

That said, such commercialism, while blatant, does fit in decently with the story and actually provides for a few related laughs. Nevertheless, one can only hope that the companies anteed up some of the production funds for such prominent and repeated placement.

The film's also a bit long, and while there are a few decent action sequences - including a harrowingly realistic, "you are there" plane crash sequence that ranks up there with scenes from "Saving Private Ryan" as the type you never want to experience firsthand - it probably could have easily survived a little trimming without any serious or notably negative repercussions.

Beyond Hanks' epic performance, there are a few other characters and performers in the film, including Nick Searcy ("Tigerland," "Fried Green Tomatoes") as the protagonist's friend, and the busiest actress of the year, Helen Hunt ("What Women Want," "Pay it Forward"), as his girlfriend. While both are good, they don't get a lot of screen time, although Zemeckis manages to get some good emotional mileage out of the scenes between her and Hanks' characters. With that in mind, some and possibly even many viewers might be disappointed in how the film ends. Without giving anything away, it does loose some dramatic momentum and concludes in a rather nebulous, but hopeful fashion that I actually liked, although I can see why it might not please everyone. It's hard to tell, however, whether the conclusion was a purposeful choice on the part of the filmmakers or the result of focus groups influencing what we ultimately see.

Overall, and despite the long running time and the fact that Hanks must carry much of the picture by himself, it's still a near completely engaging and compelling film about learning how to cope and survive in today's world - thus explaining why the title is of the two rather than one word variety (i.e. The verb instead of the noun). Quite possibly an award contender, especially for Hanks' terrific, workhorse like performance, "Cast Away" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

So, this is the tale of "Cast Away,"
It may be here for a long, long time,
Competitors will have to make the best of things,
During this film's box office climb.

The director and the writer too,
Have done their very best,
To make the experience worthwhile,
Set in this tropical island nest.

Little words, pretty sights, few co-stars,
Not a single luxury,
Like many people know,
It may be Oscar worthy.

So, join us at the multiplex my friends
You're sure to say, "Wow,"
Regarding the lone castaway
Here on Tom Hanks' Isle.

Reviewed December 8, 2000 / Posted December 22, 2000

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