With Tom Hanks as a notable exception, not many stars nowadays have the integrity or presence to carry a picture in the way of golden age greats such as Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda or the one Hanks is most often compared with, James Stewart. "Cast Away" is a long film and for much of the time, Hanks is on screen by himself, his only dialogue addressed to an inanimate ball. A lesser performer would have made it an unendurable ordeal.
Initially he's a hotshot FedEx employee and we see him at the Moscow branch kicking surprised Russian employees out of their traditional lethargy. Briefly home in Memphis, he barely says hello to his patient fiancee Helen Hunt before he's off on another mission. What occurs next is a graphically terrifying plane crash sequence (the overwhelming reason why you'll never find Robert Zemeckis' film scheduled as an in-flight movie), which leaves him washed up on a remote Pacific island with a few assorted FedEx packages.
There are just enough fish, crabs, and coconuts for him to live on, and he eventually gets the hang of making a fire. Years pass and this forlorn, latter-day Crusoe, by now exceedingly thin and hairy, seizes a chance to make his escape, only to find, inevitably, that the world has moved on, believing him dead. In a way the re-integration of a shipwrecked lost soul into his former society is the most engrossing part of the story, raising far more questions than his battle for survival. But by now, so much time has been used up that William Broyles Jr, the screenwriter, has little left for examining the consequences of a situation more humorously explored in the Cary Grant-Irene Dunne screwball comedy "My Favourite Wife".