From the archives: Cast Away

Tom Hanks sure has come a long way from his days of pretending to be an ugly woman on Bosom Buddies. Whether battling volcanoes as a guy named Joe or pretending to moon badly-spliced footage of Lyndon Johnson, Hanks has become the Hollywood everyman — a title wrested away from long-time favorite Kevin Costner by virtue of Hanks possessing the good sense not to spend $200 million to direct his own badly-conceived science fiction disasters.

Hanks’ latest big screen adventure lets us see a new side of his work. It also lets us see more of his body than any sane person would ever want as he runs about a tropical island in a loincloth. Best of all, he returns here to his most popular genre of work, the movie-length commercial (see below). Hanks has done an incredible amount of work in the course of his career to help make movies more corporate and ad-like than ever before, and I don’t think I would be amiss in saying the state of motion picture arts in America owes a great deal to Hanks’ pioneering work in such titles as Big(where he costarred with a room-sized keyboard) and Forrest Gump.

Popular courier service Federal Express puts in a brilliant turn here as the loving but insistent mistress who drives Chuck Noland (Hanks) to excel. From the opening sequence until the very end, Noland’s drive to enforce the motto “The World, On Time” is both relentless and admirable. The travails experienced by Noland as he struggles to deliver a wayward shipment of packages truly makes a viewer appreciate the dedication and hard work of the fine stewards of Fed Ex, who go so far as to bring the concept of “time” to the godless Russians and struggle to survive the wilds of a deserted island for four long years simply to make that special delivery. I can certainly say that my eyes have been opened – next time I suffer a delayed Fed Ex shipment, I can rest assured that even if it’s years late, the dedicated men and women of the company will do everything within their powers to deliver my parcel. And if the item never arrives at its destination, well, at least I know it helped a noble employee of such an upright company to survive the wilds with the assurance of proper dental care.

Also deserving a mention is Hanks’ co-star for much of the movie, a fresh-faced newcomer by the name of Wilson. Despite Wilson’s being a volleyball, he puts in an incredible performance, developing a true bond of friendship and comraderie with Noland over the course of four years’ isolation. The chemistry between Hanks and Wilson are far more convincing here than Meg Ryan’s plastic relationship with Hanks in You’ve Got Mail, and I hope to see more of this freshman actor in future Hanks projects.

If there’s a downside to this phenomenal ad package, it’s the fact that a little too much time is spent detailing the mundane details of Noland’s struggle to survive, and the aftermath of his rescue. Once Noland bravely salvages the surviving packages, entirely too little screen time is given to the role of Fed Ex, which creates a risk of causing the audience to forget the whole point of the movie. The final minutes of the movie salvage what seems to be a lost cause, though, and we see that despite the chaos Noland and his true love — Fed Ex — are at last reunited. Recommended for everyone who’s sick of watching the same old Adbusters features over and over again.

  • Pros: Drives home the virtues of Federal Express; Hanks and Wilson the volleyball are an amazing team
  • Cons: Middle section of movie strays too far from topic; Hanks spends half of movie nearly naked

Other great commercials by Tom Hanks

Cast Away is definitely not Hanks’ first movie-length commercial; in fact, he’s the master of the genre. Sure, E.T. with its Reese’s Pieces was the first to strike gold with the concept, but Hanks is Miyagi to E.T.’s Daniel-san… Qui-Gonn to his Obi-Wan. Learn at his feet, young padawan.

  • Forrest Gump: Easily the most charming sales pitch for a collection of classic ’60s, ’70s and ’80s rock I’ve ever seen, this makes the Freedom Rock commercial look like amateurs’ night.
  • You’ve Got Mail: A brilliant AOL ad which almost makes you believe that you could meet a charming, love-starved Meg Ryan in an AOL chatroom rather than the usual incoherent pedophiles and aspiring cyber-terrorists.
  • Saving Private Ryan: A powerful, stirring sales pitch for the creation of a World War II veterans’ memorial.

4 thoughts on “From the archives: Cast Away

  1. Cast Away was the movie my friends sat me in front of during my sudden, drug-induced, quarter-life crisis/panic attack many years ago. When I think about the day I became acutely, startlingly aware of my inescapable mortality, I will always associate it with Tom Hanks talking to a beach ball. “Everyone I love is dying in slow motion! And when they inevitably perish and I have to ship their remains to their final resting place, I can count on Fedex to get them there, guaranteed!”

  2. How fitting that you would repost this review just when Tom Hanks is making another return to the movie-length commercial, this time about the Wonderful World of Disney (and Disney’s Mary Poppins)!

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