CASTAWAY

Directed by Robert Zimeckis. USA. 2001.


 


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Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx martyr/missionary obsessed with time,  and Helen Hunt his fresh-faced wife Kelly Frears, a couple of typical twenty-first century American urbanites  who shoulder the strain of life in the fast lane. Nolands preoccupation with punctuality and all the distractions of the modern world set him up for the fate-engineered plane crash that leaves him marooned for four years in what  would otherwise be paradise. Unfortunately though, and perhaps contrary to the films message, Castaway is  punched in three concise acts, uniform and linear as time itself, and to make matters worse, only one of them is trully interesting. 

Indeed this is a conventional picture in almost every way; its style, editing,  and general production is straight from the Zemeckis handbook of filmmaking, identified immediately by the hand-held camera technique associated with Saving Private Ryan. The style of storytelling  is equally plain, working in three parts which are merely a hindrance to each other; the first setting up characters and relationships which promise to be fruitful and blossoming, only to be made redundant by the time the film ends.

The visual effects are breathtaking and the storyline emotional, although it is the great detail and intense silence that depict Noland and his ability to survive which renders the second part the best. This is a hypnotising study of the evolution of man and the survival of the fittest and is framed with child-like simplicity.  This section is an enthralling, captivating and stimulating projection, inspiring leisurely contemplation, although to then pass over to 'Four Years Later', only belittles the journey up to that point and makes way for confusion.  Zemeckis is left with little room to manoever within Hollywoods approach to filmmaking, and when faced with the insoluble reality of the situation in hand, seems to cower away. An uncomfortable ending concludes what becomes a 'quaint' film, the saddest  part for me being not when he discovers Kelly has married, but  when Noland leaves the island; his best friend bobbing off into the sunset.

I couldn't help feeling that Chuck was meant a more profound future than Zemeckis offered; that this experience should have changed Noland's life and yet the ending suggests it didn't - not really anyway - Chuck still delivers his parcel and retreats to domesticity. Mans need to be with people and yet not get bogged down by the distractions of every day life remains an elusive and ideal goal, and is as stalemate a situation as the tension between Hollywood and reality, nowhere moreso than at the end of Castaway.

Huge respect is due to Hanks for his highly commendable 'method' approach which has obviously been nurtured into a fantastic and absorbing performance, but while Castaway is visually stunning and thought-provoking, it is regrettably underdeveloped and unsatisfying. Highly enjoyable but -  rather fittingly - not what it might have been.

Amy Johnson
 
 
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