Up until two days ago, I had never seen Cast Away. Not once in my life. I know, try not to have a heart attack. I knew the whole story, each and every beloved plot twist mapped out for me by eager friends, word of mouth, online fare and pop culture over the years. I just never sat down and actually watched the darned thing. Well I did two nights ago, and damn if I didn’t wish I’d done that sooner. It’s every bit as incredible as I’ve heard all this time, and more so. It’s one thing to know everything about a film just because of its notoriety, and quite another to see it, obviously. I experienced every scene, every landmark event in the film for the first time ever, and my foreknowledge of it did not dampen one wondrous second of the experience. Few films bring you as close to their protagonist as this does, for two and a half patient, spellbinding hours in the life of a man whose path has taken a turn for the extraordinary. Tom Hanks is the right guy for the job, and then some. He’s immediately likeable and exudes currents of good nature and humility. Perfect casting choice. He plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx honcho with a busy life that scarcely makes room for his doting girlfriend (Helen Hunt). One Christmas eve, he’s forced to run out on her for an overnight package flight. As we all know, his plane crashes somewhere in the South Pacific, and he’s forced to survive on a deserted island for almost half a decade. We feel every empty minute, every momentous triumph right alongside Chuck, from the first dazed stroll along the wave speckled beach of his new home, to the final, raging ditch effort to find his way back to civilization. Director Robert Zemeckis let’s this larger than life tale unfold with steady, earnest shots and a down to earth score, a very simplistic approach that let’s Hanks do most of the heavy lifting. And lift he does, in a performance of sheer courage and transformative qualities. We see Chuck go from suburban joe and real world businessman to a near feral being, forged into something more than himself by the same forces that govern and mold the geography which he now inhabits, while never losing his humanity in the wild chaos. The time spent stranded is sandwiched between two segments that bookend the film, in which we see his life in civilization before, and eventually after his experience. The impeccable pacing tricks the audience into feeling like we’ve been watching this play out for as many years as he’s been living it. I mean this as a profound compliment to the filmmakers and not to say the film ever drags, in fact, for a two plus hour running time it feels surprisinly slight. It all rests on Hank’s shoulders, and he carries it beautifully, selling this man’s plight with truth, humour and resilience. An experience for the ages, and one that you should see right out of the gate in your cinematic exploration, as opposed to waiting till your mid twenties like someone we know. Masterpiece.