Cast Away

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense action sequences and some disturbing images.

Review by Matt Heffernan <>
December 29, 2000

Finally, I come to the last event picture of 2000, and quite possibly my last review until 2001. It's taken me a week to get around to it after the business of the holidays, but now I have the time to discuss it. Robert Zemeckis has already had a banner year with the success of What Lies Beneath, but he has managed to sneak in one more film this year, and it looks like he has an even bigger hit on his hands. Cast Away has already broken the December record for opening weekends, and now I have my say.

Tom Hanks stars as Chuck Noland, a FedEx inspector who has to travel the world for his job. On Christmas Eve, 1995, he boarded a plane to Asia, leaving his fiancée, Kelly (Helen Hunt), in Memphis with a ring still wrapped in a box. Over the middle of the Pacific, the plane crashes into the ocean, and only Chuck makes it out with a raft and the pocket watch Kelly gave him just before he took off.

He eventually washes up on an isolated island, with no other land or people in sight. His only company is a picture of Kelly in the pocket watch, and whatever packages washed up after him. One contains a Wilson volleyball, which becomes Wilson, his best friend and only partner in conversation.

Now, the trailers that have come out recently give away a lot more. Specifically, they give away everything until the last twenty minutes of the film -- well after Chuck's fate has been determined. It's the same thing that happened with the trailers for What Lies Beneath, but it doesn't seem to deter people from showing up. I thought the initial teaser was sufficient: just showing him wash up on the island, and leaving the next two hours an intriguing mystery.

But, chances are you have seen the later ads, so let's see why it is still worth seeing. Well, with Zemeckis behind the camera, any film will be entertaining while showing you something new. The plane crash sequence is pure brilliance, and the length of time that has only Hanks on an island is a great example of filmmaking with images instead of words. Young filmmakers would have a lot to learn from Cast Away, but they would be missing something very important.

The story itself is flawed. We don't know much about Chuck Noland other than his dedication to shipping, and his love for Kelly. His survival skills are pretty impressive, but where do they lead? The ending -- which I still refuse to give away -- should have told us something more. It should have at least been a lot tighter and have created some sort of emotional moment. An attempt is made, but it is weak, and largely unsatisfying.

What can I say? It's been a disappointing year, and this film doesn't provide the high point to 2000, just as its own ending fell short. One could look at Cast Away as a microcosm of the year: a few extraordinary moments, but not as many as there should have been, and yet a lot of money was made in the end. I said in my review of 1999 that it was a great year to become a film critic. Now I see last year as a set-up for disappointment.

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Cast Away (2000)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan