As melancholy as it is affirming, "Cast Away" tells a darkly comic, occasionally punishing parable about what happens when humans lose sight of humility in life's grand scheme - an interesting thematic twin to Tom Hanks' own "Joe vs. the Volcano."
Though Hanks comes across as blandly as ever, at least his solid performance shows he's up to carrying half a movie on his own, and Zemeckis' direction is at first as busily efficient as the protagonist.
This isn't a first time a long-awaited movie has turned out to be a crushing disappointment and it won't be the last, but the loss is made even more wrenching when one considers how little it would have taken to make Cast Away a great movie.
The challenge to the character is matched by the challenge to the actor; for most of the movie Mr. Hanks is the only human being we see or hear. He tackles the job with stunning confidence in a performance stripped of gimmicks and driven by need.