I have spoken quite a lot in this blog about how I miss the fact that Tom Hanks doesn’t do comedies anymore. Then he makes something like Cast Away and reminds me that he is probably not able to give a performance like he does in Cast Away in some of those comedies he did early in his career. His performance in Cast Away is one of the finest I’ve ever seen. It is a powerful tale of survival in the harshest of climates. The fact that 90% of this movie is only Tom Hanks alone on an island should tell you how strong this performance is.
Hanks is able to own the screen in what would have been such a challenging role to pull off. He plays Chuck Nolan, an employee of FedEx who travels the globe teaching international distributors how to be more efficient with their time. On his way to the South Pacific, his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean. He is the only survivor and manages to find his way to a secluded island in the middle of nowhere. The film joins Chuck for a four year stay on this island with nothing but a volleyball to talk too. His conversing with Wilson the volleyball provide some much needed levity in an otherwise serious film. The volleyball is really needed as I can’t imagine a film where Hanks would be silent most of the time. There’s only one movie company I’d trust to pull off a film like that (Pixar).
You have to admire Hanks’ dedication to this role, he begins the film as a pudgy middle aged man and you go with him on his journey to island native. Filming actually was put on hold for a year so Hanks could lose the weight and grow the facial hair required to make Chuck’s journey believable. I can’t say much more about this film. Hanks gives a powerhouse performance that should have been rewarded with his third Oscar. The fact Russell Crowe beat him for his over rated performance in Gladiator is an insult to Hanks and his dedication.
This should have been Tom Hanks’ third Best Actor Oscar. I mean, he lost to Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Gladiator. Like it’s so difficult to act in a grand epic with a cast of hundreds. Try carrying 75% of a movie by yourself, with the exception of a volleyball. There are very few actors who could pull off a performance like the one Hanks delivers in Cast Away.
The fact that this movie is so enjoyable to watch is impressive. While a lot of credit goes to Tom Hanks for this, the story is also incredibly well crafted. The film wastes no time setting up who Chuck Noland (Hanks) is before becoming marooned. He is quickly established as a man who thrives on efficiency, punctuality, and order. He is able to adapt and think on his feet in a crisis. All admirable qualities in a worker, but he’s also a complete workaholic. He puts his job before his girlfriend (Helen Hunt) and only seems a tiny bit apologetic about this.
However, once stranded on his little island Chuck is forced to slow down. Where he once rushed about trying to keep ahead of schedule, he now has nothing but time on his hands. Separated from everyone he knows and loves finally makes him realize what’s actually important in life.
Even though this is a serious film, there are some nice bits of humor that make it fun to watch. The best known bit would be his co-star, Wilson the volleyball. He’s introduced as a joke, but the fact that I came to feel so deeply for an inanimate object speaks volumes to Hanks’ performance. I also enjoyed that the dishes served at Chuck’s welcome home dinner are almost all seafood. This guy has just spent four years subsisting off mostly fish and crab, and this is what his friends choose to serve him once he’s home. It’s the kind of small detail that has a funny reality to it. His friends were probably trying to serve him the most decadent food they could think of, when I’m sure all he really wanted was a hamburger.
The only thing Ben and I disagree on about Cast Away is the ending. He hates that Helen Hunt’s character doesn’t end up with Hanks at the end; I think it’s realistic. She has a husband and child now. She’s moved on, and although it was her image that kept Chuck going on the island, he’s moved on as well. He’s a different person than he was before the island, and he can’t go back to who he was before. He can only go forward from here.