reunites star Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis in their first collaboration since the heavy-handed sentimentality of Forrest Gump
. Thankfully, this time their film's life-affirming message is delivered with more subtlety, attributable both to an extraordinarily committed, physically demanding central performance from Hanks and to Zemeckis' technically masterful but carefully understated direction. It's also a film with three distinct "acts" or, to be old-fashioned about it, a proper beginning, middle and end. The story follows schedule-obsessed but fulfilled FedEx supervisor Chuck Noland (Act 1) on a personal journey into the bleakest, most solitary despair (Act 2), before Helen Hunt, in the thankless role of ex-girlfriend, unwittingly allows him to glimpse an optimistic future full of untapped possibilities (Act 3).
Hanks' sojourn on the island is the centrepiece, but this is no tropical island idyll: following a terrifying plane crash (the one sequence in the film where Zemeckis shows off his uncanny ability to choreograph action), life on the island is seen to be a depressing and bitter experience filled with disappointment, danger and suicidal despair. Having lost all hope of rescue, ultimately Noland's greatest test is not to survive, but to find a reason to survive. He has no Man Friday for company, just a volleyball named "Wilson" that is both a narrative device allowing Hanks to deliver dialogue and an intriguingly pagan personification of the island's spirit under whose protection Noland is finally able to summon fire (significantly, and heartbreakingly, Wilson leaves him as he regains contact with the world). In an era of MTV-style film editing, Zemeckis and Hanks fearlessly take their time establishing with total conviction the grim realities of Noland's situation, his devastating loss of hope and the means by which he achieves his escape. Like Contact before it, Cast Away is a refreshingly thoughtful piece of mainstream cinema that explores weighty existential issues but retains a warm human intimacy.
On the DVD: The luminous anamorphic print with vivid Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is accompanied on the first disc by a technical commentary from Zemeckis and key crew personnel. It's plenty insightful for budding filmmakers, although for pure listening pleasure one might have preferred a more relaxed piece with just the director and Tom Hanks. The second disc includes a 30-minute making-of documentary in which the director sums up the moral of the movie--"Surviving is easy but living is difficult". This draws on material from the three other mini-documentaries about survival skills, Wilson the volleyball and the Fijian island location of Monu Riki respectively. There's also a section on the sometimes surprising use of CGI effects and a storyboard-to-film comparison sequence. Tom Hanks chats with American TV host Charlie Rose about this movie and his career in the extensive 50-minute interview. Trailers, artwork and stills round out a valuable two-disc set. --Mark Walker