CastAway (12)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD FEATURES: Special 2 disc collectors' edition: (Disc one) Feature and director's commentary from Robert Zemeckis.
(Disc two) Trailer A (2 mins) & Trailer B (2.27mins); Making of CastAway (27.36); Interview with Tom Hanks (47.31); Storyboard to film comparison (6.09); On Location: The island (13.150); Documentary 1: S.T.O.P - Surviving as a Castaway (26.58); Documentary 2: Wilson - Life and death of a Hollywood extra (13.12); Focus on technical effects (8.15)

IMAGINE becoming trapped on a remote island with no water, food, shelter, or companionship for four years. How would you survive - both physically and emotionally?

This chilling scenario forms the basis of Cast Away, the film which reunites Academy Award winning film-maker Robert Zemeckis (fresh from What Lies Beneath) with Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks for the first time since Forrest Gump.

As FedEx systems engineer Chuck Noland, Hanks plays a man for whom time is essential. He is responsible for ensuring the smooth delivery of packages, so every minute counts and his presence could be needed in a different country at a moment's notice. He lives his life by the clock.

Even his girlfriend, Kelly (played by Helen Hunt), must take a back seat to his job. But when the flight he is taking to another problem-solving destination crashes at sea, the life he knew begins to crumble around him. Noland ends up trapped on a remote island with only himself for company and whatever the waves deliver with them.

Gone are the everyday conveniences which make life so easy; Noland must now rely on his own problem-solving skills to maintain himself physically and mentally. There is no food save for that which he finds, no drinking water unless it rains and no one to communicate with save for a volleyball that is washed up among the many FedEx packages which find their way to the island from the doomed plane.

With little hope of rescue, Noland learns to fend for himself and attempts to come to terms with the isolation of his predicament, ever hopeful that an opportunity may present itself to escape back to civilization and all that he holds dear.

And it is a tribute to Hanks' ability as an actor that he pulls off the role and makes the film so riveting. Around an hour and a half of this two and a half hour movie is spent in the company of Noland on the island as he bids to establish some sort of routine for himself to overcome the loneliness.

In the hands of a less accomplished actor, this could make for pretty arduous viewing, yet with Hanks, it is a thoughtful and frequently emotional journey.

His transformation, both physical and mental, is conveyed largely through actions and expressions rather than words, and one can only imagine the demands the role placed on the star - he reportedly starved himself during a year-long break in filming to look the part. Yet Hanks is always believable, even when talking to his imaginary friend, Wilson, a volleyball he singles out as a companion after it washes up in another FedEx package.

It's hard to believe any emotion could be derived from one man's relationship with a ball, yet when the two encounter difficulties, and they do, Cast Away loses none of its grip.

Praise must also go to Zemeckis for his inspired use of location - the island, which is as much a character as Noland, looks idyllic, yet assumes a haunting, desolate quality which stays with you. Indeed, after this and his role in Apollo 13, it could be argued that Hanks is king of the understatement - his "I'll be right back" to Kelly rating up there alongside "Houston, we have a problem" for unfortunate turns of phrase!

That the movie does not ever leave the island while Hanks is on it represents a brave decision by the film-makers which could have gone either way. I was fully expecting scenes of Hanks' predicament to be intercut with those of the anxiety felt by the people he left behind; yet Hunt and co do not get a look in for a large portion of the film. This is most definitely a one-man show.

That said, there are moments when the rest get to shine. Hunt, in particular, is very good either side of the island segment as a woman whose life is thrown into turmoil by the events involving Noland, while Zemeckis shows that he has lost none of his ability to deliver telling set pieces - his plane crash is likely to stop people flying, while Hanks' perilous departure from the island is a thrilling piece of cinema.

The film only really comes undone when it suddenly decides to jump four years using a pretty lacklustre device - but given that it is already well in excess of two hours, it is hard to imagine a way of overcoming such a timescale, particularly as the sight of a painfully thin Hanks soon afterwards leaves little time for viewers to ponder it.

Thankfully, Zemeckis also refrains from becoming too sentimental towards the end, turning in a fitting finale which is as thought-provoking as the rest of the picture.