An Actor’s Take on Cast Away

Some movies you go see for the ending. Others you go to for the spectacle. Others because it’s hot in Arizona, and the theater is air conditioned.

Go see Cast Away, the new Hanks/Zemeckis movie, for the middle. See it to see an actor at work. Acting students should see this movie, because the core of the movie is a textbook lesson in acting for the camera.

Hanks plays a FedEx troubleshooter. The year is 1995, and we see him haranguing an inefficient Moscow crew about time being the enemy. He comes home to Memphis, the FedEx headquarters just in time for Christmas dinner with his family and his (obviously) about-to-be-fiancee, played by Helen Hunt. Naturally, his pager goes off. Off he goes to the airport; on the plane things go wrong. Nice plane crash sequence, shown from Hanks’ point of view. Most deliciously harrowing. Then the plane ditches and breaks up. Hanks is the only survivor. He washes ashore on a tiny South pacific island, where he’s not just the only person – he’s the only mammal.

This is where the core of the movie begins. In a sparse, restrained style, we see Hanks transform from 1990s man to survivor. And that’s where the acting lessons are. For most of the movie, the only things we see are Tom Hanks, the island, a few props and seamless special effects.

Hanks, as a man driven to the brink and back, gives a masterful peformance. As the lone actor in most of the picture, he uses the film actor’s tools wonderfully. For lessons on how acting for the camera really works, this is the movie to see in 2000/2001.

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