Because making a straight-up Robinson Crusoe movie would have been too easy, director Robert Zemeckis went for Cast Away instead: a modern-day retelling of the familiar tale of a man stuck on a desert island.
With only the love of FedEx to keep him warm at night.
Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) is the put-upon castaway whose FedEx plane crashes in the sea in one of the film's best, most effective sequences. We then follow him as he slowly but surely comes to terms with his new life alone on the deserted island he randomly found himself on. With only coconuts and the odd (raw) fish to eat, he struggles at first but eventually starts to learn some key survival skills which end up saving his life in the four years he ends up spending on the island. That and the company of a personalised volleyball he calls Wilson, one of the film's biggest characters and most genius product placement ideas.
Hanks' very own physical transformation during the making of the film certainly adds some realism to his character's decreasing diet and the actor's performance is altogether definitely strong enough to hold the whole film together. While the film could have very easily capsized into the melodramatic and gone for a happy Hollywood ending, there's a genuine attempt here to not overdo the schmaltz. Hanks' relationship with Helen Hunt's character on (he keeps a picture of her inside an old watch) and off the island is heartfelt but never too romanticised and it never gets in the way of some valid character development. There's also a darker revelation and some bloodier moments on the island which really don't help sugarcoat our protagonist's adventure at all.
It's a simple story told very well yet it falls just short of making for a great movie. The FedEx-themed plot just comes off as gimmicky and corny and the film itself drags a little in its first and final acts. I for one would have gladly sat through more island-based discoveries or challenges than waiting for a package to be delivered or a Christmas dinner where everybody is talking at the same time with a mouthful of ham.
Cast Away is well worth seeing, if only for Hanks' performance and dedication to the role, just don't expect to be completely blown away.