Written by: William Broyles, Jr.
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy, Christopher Noth
My Advice: Wait and Rent It.
Chuck Noland (Hanks) is an efficiency expert for Federal Express. He travels around the world, preaching the doctrine that no time should be wasted. For Noland, speed is all that separates FedEx from becoming the Postal Service. So wrapped up is he in his career that many times his relationship with his fiancee, Kelly (Hunt), takes a back seat. During the holidays, he is called overseas to handle an efficiency emergency for the company. But he never reaches his destination. Due to a fairly spectacular plane crash, he finds himself washed up on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. His chances for rescue slim to none, he must find a way to stay alive, despite the odds being stacked against him.
[ad#longpost]Robert Zemeckis is two for two this year in providing irrefutable evidence that he and subtlety have parted ways. At least with his previous attempt, What Lies Beneath, he was only guilty of making a ham-handed homage to Hitchcock and wasting the time of a fairly decent high profile cast. And one could always be pleased that it wasn’t Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho. Then again, one can always be pleased about that, no matter how bad the film at hand is. But I digress. However, here, Zemeckis’ offense is more egregious. Hanks gives a masterful one-man performance for the majority of the film, doing scenes that most actors would kill for a chance to do. And I’m not just talking about his physical transformation from the slightly pudgy efficiency expert the native complete with long hair, long beard and a loincloth to run around in. And after reading a retrospective on Edgar Rice Burroughs in Smithsonian magazine, and seeing the various pictures of actors who have played Tarzan–believe me when I say that ANYONE can put on a loincloth.
But back to the matter at hand. The role shows why he is the best actor of his generation, how he is able, with very little dialogue and a volleyball for a supporting actor, to deliver one of the best performances of the year. He did this despite great odds, among them–Zemeckis and his collaborator, Broyles. Between the two of them, they try to overplay the mystical, spiritual reawakening that Noland undergoes while on the island. And I can say “while on the island” because another strike against the film is that the trailers made it abundantly clear that Noland escapes from the island. Much like the trailer for What Lies Beneath in which a red herring was revealed thus wasting an hour of your time watching the film, the hour and a half that Noland spends on the island would be absolutely excruciating were it not for the actor’s ability to make that time worth watching. So bad is Zemeckis’ touch on this film, that when anything subtle does occur, I wondered if it was a mistake. And the straightforward narrative put forward by Broyles does not serve the story well at all. But whereas Hanks was able to transcend the material, pity poor Helen Hunt. Sure, she made a lot of money off of this film but is given virtually nothing to do.
What could have been and should have been a story about spiritual transcendence becomes only a showcase for a great actor. Granted, this is enough to make it worth watching, but definitely not on the big screen.