Directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring: Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy, Chris Noth.

Reunited for the first time since 1994’s Forrest Gump, Robert Zemeckis directs and Tom Hanks stars in an epic rendering of the triumph of human spirit over adversity that has the word 'Oscar-hungry' written all over it. Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a Federal Express executive who is a slave to his watch and a martyr to his pager. What would he do without them, one might wonder…when, on boarding a company jet bound for Tahiti, he utters the (famous last) words 'I’ll be right back', we can safely trust that the answer is forthcoming. A truly horrifying plane crash, excellently filmed, leaves him stranded on a desert island with nothing but a rubber dingy and the flotsam of Fedex packages and plane wreckage that wash up onshore to aid his survival.

Most of the film’s action takes place on the island, filmed simply, in an almost documentary style that observes Noland’s attempts to sustain himself physically - from learning to make a fire to knocking out a rotten tooth with a rock and an ice-skate. His spiritual health is also ensured by a friendship he develops with a volleyball (yes, a volleyball) and through memories of the girlfriend (Helen Hunt) he left behind. This section is inarguably the film’s best. With no soundtrack but the rolling of waves and the roar of thunderclouds, the film taps into the desolation of the island and the desperate loneliness of its only inhabitant, who grows visibly thinner (the film went on an eight month hiatus to allow Hanks lose weight for the role) and whose eyes grow ever more lifeless as the film progresses.

Sadly, the inertia of Noland’s eyes is eventually reflected in those of his audience as any potential the film had is left stranded on the island, captive to a rising tide of trite moralising, unnecessary symbolism and calculated emotional manipulation. Zemeckis and writer William Broyles clearly don’t trust their audience to intuit the film’s meaning themselves - feeling the need to tack on the emotional footnote that constitutes much of Cast Away’s final section. Deprived of their task, the audience’s greatest challenge is to ignore spontaneous involuntary images of Hanks, comfortably housed in his trailer between scenes, planning his Oscar-acceptance speech. Though the film’s ending saves it in part, Cast Away, despite its initial promise, ultimately proves a washout.

Nickie Byrne